Natalie Goes to Japan

40 year old very married blonde woman having a midlife crisis who heads to Japan alone to follow her dreams. Be careful what you wish for ... you just may get it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mammoth Hunt

I don't mean that the hunt was humongous. I mean I went looking for a Mammoth. A real honest to goodness mammoth. The fact that it's been dead over 18,000 years means it shouldn't have been all that hard to find, cuz he's not exactly roaming or anything. The Suzukis went to see it a couple of weeks ago, and told me about it. The Russians found this mammoth in the permafrost, so there were parts of him still his head. And it was currently on display at the Toyohashi Zoo Park. The Suzukis had to wait in line to see him for 2 hours. I wanted to see the mammoth bad enough to drive to Toyohashi, but not bad enough to wait in line for that long. So I decided to go on Monday, one of my days off. Except they are closed on Mondays. So, I got all my lesson planning done early and go today as my first class doesn't start 'til 4:00. I had hoped to start out at 9:00 and be there before 10:00, but that didn't happen. Through a comedy of errors, I didn't arrive there until 11:30. But I did arrive. And the driver there was really lovely, skirting the coast like it does. And the mammoth was pretty cool. The skin is all mummified, and he's missing his trunk. But he's got the huge tusks...and he still has some hair in places! I decided it wasn't macabre, seeing a head alone like you might think. It was very reverential and awe inspiring. It was probably educational for people who could read Japanese as there were exhibits describing it all. Afterwards I wandered around the various gardens they have there, and watched the kids on school trips, ate some lunch, read my book for a bit and then went to visit my freinds the Rhinos. But I couldn't make myself go any farther into the zoo. So I decided I was finished and made the return trip home. I had to call Mr. M. and postpone my usual trip to his place to make copies until tomorrow. This, of course, created a small panic, but finally an agreeable solution was worked out and the tizzy was abated. But let's not forget I found the mammoth I was searching for...that in itself is an achievement.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Explorer's Headache

We had a unexpected glorious morning. So exploring I would go. I picked a temple called Yamazumi on the map as my destination. I chose a couple of side trips as well. One is Myojin Gorge and the other was Japan's largest tengu mask. I gather that a tengu is similar to a goblin. So I drive up 152 looking for something to point me in the right direction. 152 is the one that goes to Hamakita and Tenryu. But this is significantly past Tenryu. But I keep going and keep going for about an hour. I decided I went too far and I drive back and try a road over to a city with the Goblin Mask. Nope a couple of kilometers in its closed. So I get back on 152 and take another road to Haruno. It ends up coming to a T intersection and the roadsign is so worn out it is illegible. So I turn around and go back to 152. I go all the way back to Tenryu. I've now been driving for 2 and a half hours. But the countryside is lovely, and it would be an absolute shame to waste the weather. So I head up another road to Haruno and what do you know? It took me to Haruno. I find the mask. It is one big mask. Unfortunately it is in the parking lot of the library, which ain't exactly scenic. So I take my pics and decide I feel good enough to still try and find the temple. I drive up the Haruno highway until I come to the first numbered highway (389) and take that. My map only has a few highways marked on it, so I'm not sure this is the right one. This is a wild ride. It's a one lane, winding highway through the most gorgeous scenery I have seen in Japan. It goes up along a river and there are beautiful views everywhere. Rocky shoals, waterfalls, steep mountains, giant boulders and the occasional tiny little cute town. I pull off at one of these tiny cute towns to take a picture and notice it has a signpost pointing in all four directions. Luckily the temple I am looking for has one of the only kanji I know - yama, which means mountain. I verify it on the map. Yep, the place I want is still another 18 kilometers away. And as I can only drive about 20 kilometers per hour on this road I know I have another hour to go. I forge on. The scenery only gets better. In the whole hour on this road I only pass 5 other cars. As I get close to the temple the road gets much steeper. And I keep going up and up and up. When I had the temple in sight I actually whooped out loud. I parked and looked around the temple. It was a nice temple, but nothing extraordinary. There are other sights to see in the vicinity, but it's time to get back home. I was sure that 389 would take me to 152 and that would be the fastest way home. Along the side of the road were antelope crossing signs, tanuki crossing signs and monkey crossing signs. And I did see a monkey scurring up the mountain at one point. And a snake that I tried very hard to avoid, not sure though. I get out on 152 and realize that I had turned around about 10 kilometers short of the turnoff, but that it probably wouldn't have done me any good to have driven this far, cuz I don't think I would have had any clue that this was the right road anyway. So I drive home. I left at 10 in the morning and returned at 5 in the afternoon. I'm estimating I spent 6 hours driving in search of the temple I only spent 15 minutes at. Oh, I don't regret it, but it's kind of funny. But by the time I got home I had one massive headache. Killer headache. And a sore throat. So I popped one of every pill in the house and took a nap. Hope that gets rid of my explorer's headache.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gone Fishing

"F is for Fish" is this weeks BabyKids theme. So for my extra project I cut these fish shapes out of plastic, attached paperclips to the tails and drew one of the letters or corresponding objects on the fish that I have already taught them. Then I glued a magnet to the end of a hyaku yen fishing pole I bought. This is not an original idea. Every ESL Teaching site on the internet has this suggestion is some variation or other. It's just the first time I got around to trying it. So I show the kiddies the A fish and the B fish, etc. They think it's pretty cool. But they love it when I show them the Apple Fish, the Boy Fish, the Cat Fish, the Dog Fish and the Egg Fish. And they really go crazy over the Fish Fish. They come up one by one, sit on my lap and then we fish. When they catch something I ask them what is on the side of the fish. Not a whole lot of correct answers, but they always want to try again.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Break in the Rain

Had a day and a half of respite from the ongoing rain. We have had tons. And this isn't even the rainy season. But today was lovely and sunny. So I took every advantage of it. First I rode my bicycle to work. It's the first time all year! And it was joyous. Then after morning classes I rode over to the hyaku yen to pick up supplies and took a new route home. Then after lunch I walked to the grocery store to buy inari sushi and flowers. Then I took my book to the park and read for a bit. Then back to the aparto for a brief nap with all the windows open to encourage the breeze. I had to drive to the later classes, but with windows down. Unfortunately the rain will be back tomorrow to stick around for the entire weekend and into the forseeable future....and probably forever at this rate. But today was loverly.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let There Be Light

How many Americans does it take to change a lightbulb? Trick question. It can't be done. The lightbulb burnt out in my laundry/vanity room. The truth is it burnt out 3 months ago. But it took me forever to do anything about it. First problem was my laziness. Then add in the Thailand trip, chicken pox, mother's plight and trip to Florida. Then there was the hurdle of reaching the stupid light. I don't have a step ladder. Or even a chair. All my furniture is for hanging out on the floor. So I bought a cheap stool finally. Then I figured out how to uncover the light and take out the old bulb to use as a guide for buying the new bulb (which wasn't all that difficult). Cuz this ain't your standard American 100 watt bulb. This is a flourecent round contraption. So I took it to the store and found one the same size for a little over 500 yen. When I tried to install it, it was too small to fit unto the hooks. Dang it. I compared the size of the bulb to the bulb on the cover of the box, not the actual bulb. And you just don't go around returning things in Japan. So I took my original bulb to another store matched the bulb by some number they both had in common and invested another 900 yen. Got it home, climbed back up on the stool and attempted another stab at it. It wass a whole lot harder to install it than uninstall the old one. But I got to a place where I thought it was ready to go and turned on the switch. Nada, Rey, Zero, Zilch, etc. So I let it sit around in the on position hoping it just needed to warm up, seeing as it was a flourecent bulb and all. A week and a half later it still hadn't turned on. So when my students were at the house tonight I asked them what in the Sam Hill had I done wrong. Shosei hopped up on the stool, unscrewed this little black thing and said I needed a new glow lamp. He unscrewed a glow lamp from a infrequently used light and put it in the other lamp. And now I have light to laundry with, and more importantly for putting eyeliner on. Of course having only limited light from other rooms made my skin look younger. Guess I'll just have to get used to seeing the real me again. This long story just illustrates how everyday little things can be a huge ordeal when you are in a foreign country.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Going into the Gray

I've done a couple of things recently I never thought I would do. I tend to be an above board person. I'm not always by the books, but mostly. The first thing I did, which isn't all that big a deal is that I attempted to proxy my isp address. I logged onto ABC tv's site the other day, cuz I heard on NPR that they were going to start putting entire episodes online. Which would be great for me! But they won't let me watch, cuz I'm outside the US. What? You rotten little bastards! So I went online trying to figure out how to get around it. Supposedly you just use a proxy address, which can be found on various sites, and then you can watch. Took me forever to find a proxy address, and then where to put it in Firefox. But it isn't working, so I must be doing something wrong. But who thought I would ever be in need of a proxy address. That's something organized criminals or subversives or paranoid people would do, not upfront, overly honest me. And I have spent hours on this endeavor. And the funny thing is I don't really want to watch any of the shows they have available online. But they ticked me off telling me I couldn't watch. But the other thing I did that goes quite against my grain is that while I was in Thailand I bought pirated DVD's. I just never thought I would do that. I figure I can afford the legal copies, or if I can't then I probably shouldn't be buying DVD's anyway. But...(isn't there always a but)...this is slightly different. First of all it's a tv show. Six Feet Under. And that means they are much more expensive. And I never saw the show, but heard such good things about it I have been dying to see it for years. But who wants to lay down $75 bucks for a show they've never even seen? And the other thing is that I'm not easily able to rent it hear. It's certainly not at the video store I go to. It may not be at any video store in Hamamatsu. How would I know? Turns out I enjoyed the first season very much, but have no way to see the following seasons. Oh, well. But these two things I've done recently make me wonder if I'm turning to the dark side. I'm not too worried. At the rate I'm turning I wouldn't be evil until I was about 90. And how much trouble can you raise at 90?

Monday, May 22, 2006

My New Buddy

Meet PoSh my new buddy. I decided I was just going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new camera. I had done a little research online and in a few stores and I was really frustrated. But I decided I would just go and buy something today. A story on NPR not long ago was about consumer satisfaction. And it said people who did little or no research and bought things quickly were much more satisfied than people who researched and scouted for the best price. I decided to take this to heart and just buy me a camera without thinking too much about it. So I went to Yamada Electronics store and 10 minutes later I was the proud owner of a Canon PowerShot 530. Took me awhile to figure out how to change it over to English and download an English manual, but I did it. Then this afternoon I went off to try it out. I walked down to a shrine I drive by everytime I go shopping at Ito Yokido. The sun was fading but I'm pretty happy with the pics. My old camera was a great workhorse of a camera, and I'm a little sad to retire it. But this camera is so light and fast and has double the zoom. I think PoSh and I are going to get along just fine.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Day in the Park

Apparently the Weather Gods read my blog and took pity on me and provided beautiful weather for my day off. I went with Rinako and her family to the Garden Park for an all day picnic. Rinako had to be pushed through the park in a wheelchair because of some problem with her leg I don't understand. But she's a bit of a drama queen so it suited her well. And we, her subjects, dutifully pushed her wherever she wanted to go. The Garden Park was built a few years ago to house a year long flower exhibition. And now it is maintained by volunteers. In general it's a lovely place. But some of the things haven't been maintained. Especially the water pools and fountains. We had a nice time wandering around the different gardens. There's and international section with gardens and structures to symbolize different countries of the world. The Thai building is definately the coolest. Wish I'd seen something like that when I was in Thailand. Then there is a recreation of Monet's Givenchy Garden. And it looks a lot like the paintings, except that this garden was crowded with thousands of Japanese people in every spare square inch. Yuri took her unicycle, so while Masa pushed Rinako in the chair, Yuri held onto him while riding the unwieldy thing. Masa has a huge amount of patience. We took a little break and listened to a solo trombone concert. I can't say the music was wonderful, but sitting in the sun, listening to music and watching the multitude of families enjoying themselves was a lovely way to spend some time. I ended up with pink shoulders (I haven't dared to look to see if my nose got red) and a nice warm tired feeling. Thanks be to the weather gods.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Butterflies are Free?

Well, not these butterflies. The materials cost me about 5 bucks. This weeks EF project was "Spring" and what better exemplifies Spring than butterflies. So they take the page printed with the outline of a butterfly on it and then blotch a lot of paint onto one side. And of course blotch some paint on me, them and the carpet. Then Mom folds the page in half and they rub the paint around. Ta-da! Then you have a butterfly with matching patterns. And the little ones end up with their very own masterpiece.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Myth of Spring

I'm starting to believe the idea of Spring is nothing but a myth. It is mid-May and I am still using my heater on occasion. It has rained here every day since I returned and was really cold before I left. In two months it is guaranteed to be so hot that you have trouble breathing. So where is Spring? Is this just a freak year, and Spring will be back next year as usual? I can't seem to remember a good Spring. I think it's always like this...too hot or too cold...nothing in between. I think Spring must be a myth that they teach us in school, and we just assumed it to be true. Like Pluto is the 9th planet. This is something I take as fact, but then again I've never seen Pluto, so maybe that's a myth, too. I think it was created just to get us through Winter with a little hope things will be nicer soo. Well, my faith is shaken and I'm not sure I believe in Spring anymore. But then again I think butterflies are responsible for many unsolved deaths each year, too. Obviously I'm nuts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Finding My Way

I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things. My brain is really ready to get out there and do something. But my body wants to ease back into things slower. Classes have been good therapy, but they don't last 24 hours a day. Or on my days off. Sunday I was feeling really guilty about not getting anything done. And then late in the day, I realized it was my first day off since I returned. And after the month and a half I had, I needed to get off my own back. The next day I did get around to getting off my butt. A few chores, and some exploring. Nothing big. I picked out a waterfall on a map I have and decided to see if I could find it. This was pretty much a shot in the dark. The map didn't have any highway numbers, and of course everything it does have is in Japanese. But, amazingly enough, I found it. The hike to see the waterfall was about a 10 yard march up a paved road. Not really the excersize workout I was hoping to get. But this waterfall's name had a male symbol as it's first kanji. So I decided to walk a little further down the road to see if there was a female to go with it. Yep. I'm brilliant. This had a little more hike to it. Probably only 15 minutes. And thank gods for that. My legs were killing me. And I don't know why. I walked up the 4 flights of stairs that I usually walk up just the day before. No prob. I walked to the grocery store 15 minutes away from my aparto twice in the last week. Never a twinge. But this little walk was a bugger. The waterfalls were lovely. Unfortunately the land around them was litter strewn. I wish I could show you pics, but as I am still without a working camera, that's quite impossible. It drove me crazy not to have a camera with me. Guess I'll just have to break down and buy a new one. But making a decision like that seems to big right now. Oh, what to do, what to do?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Coping Mechanism

It turns out that when I have harsh stress, such as the stress of the last couple of weeks and months I don't crumble into a ball of tears. I always thought I would. I cry easily. I blubber all over the place in sad movies (4 Weddings and a Funeral is guaranteed cry), sad songs (If I Saw You in Heaven does it every time), sad tv shows, sad commercials, sad books, sad name it I cry. But when it comes to the worst that life has to throw at me, I don't cry. Only an occasional outburst for a minute or two. It appears when life gets overwhelming I get mad. That's right. I get seriously pissed off. So for the last couple of weeks I have been seethingly angry. Mark says it's a decent way to cope. Crying tends to make you useless, but anger puts you into a more useful gear. And that's probably pretty true. But now I really can't be useful anymore and that anger is starting to manifest itself into stomach aches. I'm probably giving myself an ulcer. Classes seem to help. I turn back into my self for an hour or two, and am almost completely absorbed into what I am doing. Work therapy is a life saver.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saying Goodbye

Mumsy is doing a little better. I got pretty frustrated with her over the last couple of days. She wouldn't use her speaking valve for one thing. I know it made her nervous, but she needed to use it a little, every now and then so her lungs and vocal chords would get stronger. And she wouldn't eat or drink anything, cuz she wasn't hungry. But she needs to get her stomach back to digesting regular food. Not to mention the tube feeding isn't all that good for her system. And she stayed in bed all day yesterday. Now, she would have to get them to bring in the recliner, and carry her and all her tubes to the is a big ordeal, granted...but it's really good for her muscles to sit in the chair. But this evening when I came to visit she had been pretty active while I was gone. She had sat in the chair and drank some coffee, and had practiced applying and removing the speaking valve. And had practiced using it. Which means this evening we actually had some conversations. Up until now she had just been mouthing words, gesturing and writing on the clipboard. That all makes for a lot of frustration on both sides. But the speaking valve was a big improvement. And since this will be my last visit with her before I go back to Japan, she will actually be able to tell me "Goodbye" instead of mouthing it.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Miracle in the Works?

One doesn't want to get overly optimistic after having been on the roller coaster ride like I have been. Nor do I want to be pessemistic. But the number of startled health practicioner's who oooh and aaaahh over the recovery my mother has been making is starting to turn me to the optimistic side. Her color, her attitude, her mental awareness, her fine hand/eye coordination, and her stats are all improving very well. Is she a miracle in the works? Maybe.

Friday, May 05, 2006

To the Depths of Hell

I have always known that death was not the scariest part of life. But I have never had to face either death, or it's worse options. And within the last week I have had to face both. After my mother's tracheotomy, her heart and lungs improved. But her mental functioning did not. I had to face the fact that my mother may have had oxygen depravation that caused brain damage. And that is what is worse than death. And I found I am not strong enough to deal with that. But things have gotten better. My mother is not as disoriented and confused as she was. She is starting to answer tougher questions correctly. And when the doctor asked her my name, she definately croaked "Natalie". It's still very hard to sit here, and worry and yet smile and look strong, when all you want to do is run away, far far away.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Daughter's Nightmare

It's bad. It's just about as bad as it can be. I flew to Florida yesterday, and saw my mother last night for the first time. She's all bloated, and her face is distorted with the tape holding the tube in her mouth. But the worst is when she wakes up. And I'm hoping it's the drugs, but she looks absolutely miserable. That confused, angry/sad look that alzheimer's disease patients get. But she can't even talk to us because of being on the ventilator. She's having a really hard time. She can't seem to get off the ventilator. They lower her oxygen level for awhile, and then later (that day or even the next day) she get's into distress, and they have to raise it again. She's currently at 50 percent, and seems to have been level for a whole day. Tomorrow she is scheduled for a trachiotomy. I know that it sounds terrible, but I am very hopeful about it. I think if they can get her off the drugs for sedation because of the ventilator, that she might recover a little better. But that's a completely undeducated guess. I very well could be just a grasp for a little hope.