Travel Journal of my Time in Japan

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November 2, 2002

We Finally had Snow
Well, up in the mountains anyway. It's melted already, but it was rather beautiful. Of course, that snow was very far away. It will be a different story when the snow is right here, all winter long. Time will tell. Right now it's just very rainy. I was thinking of going hiking this past weekend to see the fall colors at a place called Sado Island. (Maybe you can look for it on a map. It's in the Japan Sea, just near Nagaoka.) But the rain made that trip uninviting, for a couple of reasons. First, the trip involves a ferry ride - and in rough weather the ferries don't cross. Second, hiking in the rain can be a bummer. Disappointing, but I got lots of reading done this weekend, and that's always good. But when there's lots of rain, the canal near my apartment gets rather high, all the way to the bridges that cross them. And the water gets quick, fast! The canals never quite overflow though. I'm sure there some clever Japanese solution that keeps that from happening. For instance the bullet train tracks are elevated so there's no danger of collisions with cars. Clever!

Computer troubles
Well, you might remember from my last entry on October 23rd that I was having computer troubles. But all is well now. I had a few rather frustrating loooooong-distance calls with Dell-USA. I kept telling them I needed my hard drive replaced, and they kept saying "try this, try that, call us back if it doesn't work". Each time I called I expected it to be easy. Tell them it didn't work and they would start the process to replace the hard drive. But always, "try this, try that, and call us if it doesn't work." Each call required that I stand in an outside phone booth at 2am... I finally had to get nasty (as nasty as I am capable of being) and the guy begrudgingly agreed to just send me parts, expecting me to install hardware myself. I decided it was better than a computer that doesn't work at all. Frustrated, I was ready to wait for the parts. But then the next morning I got a telephone call from Dell-Japan and a very nice man made everything okay. He was patient with my cluelessness, and the language barrier. I told him very little about the symptoms, and almost immediately he said "oooh, that doesn't sound good, we will need to replace the hard drive." He arranged to pick up my computer at my work. He said they would bring a box to pack it in ahead of time. He said they would install and set up the hard drive for me, if I included my operating system disks - thankfully I thought to bring them with me for just such an occasion. He gave me his telephone number, email and name if I had any questions. AND, most importantly, he actually apologized because they wouldn't be able to save anything on my hard drive. I didn't expect they would be able to, but it was rather nice to hear the apology. Well, anyway, the man told me it would be a week before I would have my computer back. But it turned out to be only 4 days! When I got to work today, it was waiting for me. And they were able to get my upgraded operating system to work. I couldn't do it, it kept crashing, and Dell "Helpline" was no help so I'd given up on it, and I'd been using an older version of Windows. But now I have my computer with Windows XP. I love Japanese customer service. My co-workers say their experience is usually very different. So maybe being a foreigner gets you special treatment here and there. There are upsides to being a foreigner, and that is one. So anyway, now my computer works great. Although I lost quite a few photos I had scanned before I left the US, and some other files. I saved as many as I could, but eventually the system got so unstable I couldn't even turn it on. I got most of the photos though. Those smiling faces help keep homesickness to a minimum. :-)

I read my first word in Japanese "letters"!
It was the word "house", part of the name of a restaurant. I was so pleased with myself. I haven't read any since, but I stay hopeful. It's really a lovely alphabet.

My apartment is really chilly
With the onset of chilly weather, my apartment is an icebox! I thought it was all the windows I have, but Conor says his apartment is cold too, and he has half the windows I do. We decided our building must not have very much insulation. The worst is crawling into bed at night, waiting for the sheets to heat up. Mom, I know you said you like that, but these sheets are REALLY chilly. I wish I had my flannel sheets here. I was sure the Japanese had some kind of solution, they always do! And I discovered it today. One of my students, Mariko, told me they sell bed warmers and hot water bottles for warming up beds. So I asked my co-workers and two of the Japanese teachers (Sayuri and Ikuko) said they would bring in old water bottles they don't use anymore. So I will have one for my body, and one for my feet. Cold feet in bed in the worst! Oh, and when I'm cooking there is condensation on the pans which drips into the gas flame. Now THAT's COLD. And don't get me started on the bathroom in the morning.

But I'm adapting and learning how to stay comfortable using much less energy. As a tree hugger, I'm loving that! For instance, I take my clothes in the bathroom with me while I take a shower, so they can warm up from the steam. And last night I found a sort of electric blanket thing. Turns out it's meant to be a carpet. You put a small table on it - I have one, it's about a foot high from the floor, and two square feet of surface. The top of the table comes off, and you can lay a blanket over it, and then put the top back on. So you have a firm surface on the table, but the blanket drapes down all four sides of the table. So the heat rises from the carpet thingy, and is trapped under the little table. Clever, huh?

Street Cats
Just outside the door of my school there is a cat with kittens. I'm worried about them with winter coming. I tried to ask my Japanese co-workers if we could take the cats to a humane society, not easy to communicate the question, but I don't think there are humane societies in Japan, I'm not sure. My co-workers just smiled at me a little and assured me the cats will be fine. People will feed them, and eventually the kittens will all be taken home by passers by. I hope so.

To the right is a photo of the white mother cat, with her four black and white kittens. The door to my school is just to the right of the edge of the photo. This Japanese woman is one of many who sit and watch them.

I got my first haircut - Eshk
It's soooo short. There was a communication breakdown. I brought in a photo with me, and it seemed to be going well, but I couldn't leave well enough alone. She started cutting the top and I asked her to take another 1/2 inch off. And I think she thought I was saying I wanted all the hairs only 1/2 inch long! OH well, it will grow. The sooner the better. I feel very silly, but my co-workers and students are very kind. They all say, in broken English, "it suits you." But I got a more honest reaction from Conor, he couldn't help smiling and he even giggled a little. Oh well, it will grow soon enough. In the meantime, my head gets cold!

I well say the process of getting the haircut was rather nice. They are very pampering. When you get a shampoo, you know the place where you rest your neck on the sink's edge? Well, it's slightly heated! Neat, huh? And then they put a little paper towel thingy over your face while they shampoo you. This way you don't have the discomfort of wondering where to look when they're shampooing you. Up her nose? And no worries if there are any breath issues. Oh, and the chair is automatic - it leans back for you, no reclining levers. Of course my long legs were too long for the chair and so it was a little awkward. And they got in the way of people wanting to walk by. But no big deal. And when they shampoo, they massage. Quite nice indeed. Next time, I'll bring my photo, and keep my mouth shut. And take what I get. No, I will NOT be included a photo of me with my first haircut!

Hope Halloween was Happy for All
Mine was good! I wore an all black suit to work - I didn't think to bring anything orange with me to Japan. And I wished all my students a Happy Halloween - they seemed to like that. After work was my real celebration. I heated up the canned chili sent to me in a care package. Oh goodness, the sensation of the spices on my tongue! MMMMmmmm.... I closed my eyes with each spoonful. I vowed never to take mexican food for granted, ever again. Please keep the comfort food coming! Macaroni and cheese is ALWAYS good, chili, spanish rice spice packets would be good, (rice is NO problem here!) and I'm still looking for BBQ sauce. I hope you don't mind the brash hints, but really, the mac and cheese is running low! :-o

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

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on to November 15, 2002