[The American Years]

Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's nice to be loved.... or at least coveted

After we had our Oyster Stew by candlelight at Nanny's, Zane wanted to blow out the candles on the table. Someone made him laugh when he tried, and he just couldn't get the breath together. Then we laughed at his trying to blow out candles through his laughter. Our laughter fed his laughter and vice versa. The madness and giddiness hit the whole table. Only the candle remained unaffected. Sadly or gladly, I didn't get a single picture of it. I say gladly, because I got to see Zane in a pure boyhood moment, and I wasn't thinking about focus or red eye reduction. Then on New Year's Eve, Kathleen made a lovely dinner which we enjoyed by candlelight. As if on cue, Zane cracked himself up trying to blow out the candles. This time the camera was handy. Here's a series from that. I challenge you to not smile at this boy.

News news news. Note for those of you who might want to someday work for a company like mine: Plan nothing. Everything will change. The only thing constant is change. But you'll get used to it.

The story through now: There have been 3 different Japanese entities who've had opinions about when I would start my term in the motherland. (1) The project leaders want me (or any warm bodied gaijin) over there to pick up the workload as soon as possible. (2) Global Human Resources in Japan who officiates the Inter Company Transfer policies says all transfers have to happen in January or June. So that would mean I wouldn't go until June. (3) My big Japanese boss in the US is the VP of Engineering. He called in a favor to get me approved to go in March. Lovely compromise. Everyone's happy. I thought we were all set. .... THINK AGAIN!

Now enter the fourth entity. (4) The big Japanese boss at the location where I'm leading the current project thinks I need to stay put through the end of March to see this project through. You'd think, fine: put (4) in touch with (3) and let them fight it out. That sounds easy enough. Yes, maybe a bit too easy. You see, the great compromiser (3) the VP of North American engineering has gone back to Japan. His 3-year term here is done and he's repatriated. So now (4) can push around the American management that remains. The incoming Japanese VP doesn't know me from rice pudding, and would respond: "Kan ke nai". Or as the Japanese say :"I doesn't know; I doesn't care."

So the long end of the story is that something might change, but maybe not. Maybe only my departure. When the family all joins me is largely set. If the solo portion of my Japanese trip is shorter, nobody happier than me.

I routinely make fun of the way the Japanese speak English, because I want the Japanese to clown me as much as possible. Which of course, they'll never do. Too dadgum polite.

Interesting language note: Kathleen's name is difficult to pronounce for the Japanese. Having the 'TH' sound followed by 'L' sound is especially challenging. Japanese doesn't really have either sound. It'll be interesting what they make of it. Our Latino friends speaking the Spanish language (which also doesn't typically have 'th' sound), use the Latin equivalent of her name: Catalina. Very lovely. Both as a salad dressing and an island. Kathleen loves that pronunciation because of all the beloved people who call her by that name.

The Japanese are more likely to substitute a hard 'S' for the 'TH' sound in foreign words. [This week's trivia contest: Is there or has there ever been a Japanese car model from any maker which has 'TH' in the name? If someone can think of one, please share. None come to mind for me right now. And nope: Thunderbird is either the Ford product, or the delicious fortified wine. Both would be pronounced Sahn-dah-bahd in Japan. Both also have more kick than most of the domestic Japanese output in either market.]

Back to Kathleen's name. It's very likely that Japanese could pronounce 'Kathleen' very similar to 'Gasoline' if we're not careful. Don't tell her, but I guarantee there'll be one jokester in our household who will be less than careful with the pronunciation during introductions. This person will ensure it's pronounced and even spelled 'Gasoline', just for giggles. Has a nice ring to it. "Mmm, Very crazy Americans name their children after petrolium products.

I've got a little more to write, but I'll save it for next week. First rule of show biz: Keep 'em wanting more. My man Ray Milland taught me that much.

Thanks for the comments which have been posted. Many people emailed saying they prefer not to comment, but are happy to email nice pats on the head to me, which is really all I'm after. Public or private, all any of us wants is validation.

"[The Japanese] are extremely good imitators — and so polite they even copy the mistakes." - Earl Scruggs, Bluegrass legend, b.1924

Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's Starting to Set In

Ah, Christmas in California. We weren't dreaming of a White Christmas. We had exactly the Christmas we dream of.

I hope that with the Christmas gift I gave to myself (the new camera) the photos here will improve. Eventually they'll be photos of Japan.

My thanks to Skippy for posting my first (non spam) comment. Until last week in CA, I didn't think anyone was reading this junk. (I truly can't say I blame anyone. I can just barely stand to read it myself.) Then many people in CA said that they read the blog. So thanks to all. And please follow Skippy's lead by posting a comment or two (with or without references to bottom pinching). Note that I've heeded the good advice to avoid naming the company I work for. Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they won't fire me if I speak ill (or even well) of them. Please follow my lead in your comments.

After answering the question several times: "So when do you leave for Japan?", it's started to set in a little more that it's actually going to happen. And when I say March 1st, that's coming up very soon. How many more weekends are there between now and when I leave? 9?
The thought struck me recently that when I go to Japan next time, it's on my dime. Sort of. Of course, the company is compensating me for my troubles, but I've never had to budget when over there. I go about my business, and keep receipts, and come out ok. Now that it's my dime, my attitude will need to change.
I was just looking at the train map of Nagoya and its surroundings and the airport. I realized that getting from the airport to wherever I'm staying will be on my dime. By cab, about $200. By train and/or bus, around $60. I'll not be reimbursed. I have to budget it and figure out the cheapest way.
And what to eat that night? On my dime as well. I can't just pick a restaurant that suits me and make it happen. I'll have to make room for Balance Bars in my luggage I guess. I've never had to consider money over there before. It's all monopoly money. It's all different colors, in strange denominations. "That thing costs 1,200? I have a 10,000 bill on me. Looks like I can afford it! Take two they're small." And only being there for a few weeks typically, it's hard to get any idea of living costs.
My stated purpose over there is to learn the company's way of doing things. I can abide by that, and if tt gets me some cache with the masters back in the states, then bueno. However, I will likely be learning a lot more about the people and what it takes to live there, etc. Truly and secretly, that's my personal purpose for going.
I read a quote today:"If you're not willing to be changed by a place, then there's no sense in going." On this upcoming adventure for us, I think we're all willing to be changed by the place..., however I'm still not convinced that our going makes great sense. (The things we're sacrificing are adding up... more on that in a later post.)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's Christmas Time Pretty Baby...

Zane in the Bluegrass Youth Ballet production of "The Nutcracker in One Act".

So my employer has come through with the goods about what it will mean for me. In short, it's no get rich quick scheme, but I have no complaints. "It ain't no trick to get rich quick. You just dig dig dig with a shovel and a pick." - Heigh Ho.

It would be better if they would tell you up front: "Go here for this long and do this, and this is how we'll take care of you."

Instead, it's more like:"Go here, and do this for this long. Yes or no. Will you go? Have you decided? How about now? Accept and we'll tell you what it means for you. Hmmm? Can you agree? How about now? Hurry up and decide so we can draw up your paperwork."

Not that there's ever any doubt, but it's clear they hold all the cards. Oh well, that's life for those of us addicted to paychecks. I've told Kathleen that we'll take turns breadwinning / homeparenting. We can go in 5 year intervals. She could restaurant manage, or sell her artwork (I really think she could if she was forced to overcome her natural humility about her talent.) She's turned me down so far. Maybe if I keep draggin her off to foreign places away from all she holds dear, she'll decide to take the reigns. ... Doubt it.

Here's a funny thought (and only that... no hidden meanings here): What if we were discovered to be pregnant right now. No, we're definitely not, but the thought crossed our minds. So would we still go to Japan and have a kid there? You know, I don't think they believe in epidurals over there. And I have no idea what the C-Section skill is over there. I do know that a lot of the Japanese whom I work with have kids when over here. I think women's medical issues are handled in a more modern way in the US than in Japan. I only say that because Japanese society treats women much like they were treated in the 50s in the states. I fear there would be an attitude of "Yes this hurts..., it's supposed to hurt." Anyway, God willing we won't find ourselves at the mercy of Japanese medicine at all. Prenatal, partum, ... nothin. That's my hope.

On a Japan trip about 7 years ago, one of my companions had horrible bronchitis. They went to the Japanese doctor who told him through a translator the he was homesick. Nice. Our joke is that the Japanese cure for everything is "two pills and a powder".

I need to stop tempting the fates. If I make fun of Japanese society or medical skills too much, Old Man Karma is going to make me pay. With interest in the form of dramatic irony.

Got a new camera. The Elton John up there is next year's Christmas card.

I've been in Japan near Christmas time. Totally pagan, and almost indestinguishable from ours here in the states.

What is the national religion of Japan? Consumerism? Tradition for tradition's sake? Propriety? Overachievement? Don't believe what the Encyclopedia Brittanica told you -- that it's Buddhism or Shinto. Those are only for old men who fear death. I'll check into it and report back in 6 months or so.

Anyhow. I'm trying to post with greater frequency. "A good blog is a frequently updated blog," or so I've been told.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Some news is bad news

Photo: Zane's first black eye. You should see what the other kid looks like. Purely accidental playground collision. But there might be fisticuffs once kids make fun of Zane for being in the ballet. So far, so good.

So guess what. I learned some details of what it will all mean. I'll summarize the 30 minute conversation: The only reliable information I have is bad news. The rest is unclear.

One trip home is all we'll get for the year. I was earlier told we'd get two. Now it's one for the year. One trip home. I understand that to fly a family of 4 home is expensive. $15-20K. That's a whole lot of squid.

For the rest of the questions, nobody can answer. For example: Will the car allowance be enough for 2 cars? Will the housing allowance be enough to live where we want (nearby to the international school and close to the expressway to work)? How are Doctors, Prescriptions, Vacations, Holiday calendar, Taxes, School costs for the kids... the list goes on and on.

I think in the long run, it will all work out to our satisfaction. Or to some mix of satisfaction and dissappointment. But that's OK. If it wasn't for disappointments, I wouldn't have any appointments.

Ken and Marsha were just here last week. We had a fine time, but I wish I could have had more time off to enjoy their company. They visited historical items in and around town. The Mary Todd Lincoln house. Henry Clay's estate. The Hunt-Morgan house. I think they enjoyed themselves. It was great for the kids to see them again.

Speaking of which, did I mention only getting one trip home?

Monday, October 24, 2005

I miss home already.

Espresso: It's like CoffeeZilla.

Imagine 13 hours on a plane, sitting near a 5 year-old and a 7 year-old. Worse than that, they're YOUR 5 year-old and YOUR 7 year-old.

Remember all the dirty looks you've given when kids come into your airplane cabin? Those will be all coming back at you from every seat in every row.

Little did you know that this is not just an airplane. It's a fancy day spa, and not a place for children. Every adult on the plane was born as an adult, and has nothing but scorn for the smaller pupal stages they're looking (down) at now. No tolerance for the little ones, even (especially) from the vacationing preschool teachers. Busses? Trains? The Ferry? Kids are OK. Airplanes? Not so.

Then when you arrive, you're in a million miles from home, and everything's different... Every sign that can't be read by the family (which simply means every single sign). All the strange food. Add exhaustion to disorientation to confusion... possibly on top of indigestion. Even the McDonalds tastes different. Is nothing sacred?

In the words of Tom Waits: "How can the same moon, over this Chinatown fair, look down on Indiana and find you there?"

I know the codependence craze has come and gone. So what do they call it now, when you feel overly responsible for other people's happiness? Do they call it parenting? Family life? Intercompany transfer?

I know I'm going to hear the sad whiny little voice saying "I want to go back to Kentucky." And of course, the kids might whine too.

My response? "You want some cheese with that whine? I'd buy you some from the grocery store but I have no idea what anything is in that dairy case. And I'm only guessing that it is the dairy case."

So I have some bundled anxiety about being responsible for their individual and collective happiness. What if it means we miss Yosemite this year? What if we miss Kathleen's brother Dan's wedding? What if it's all my fault? Clearly, no matter what happens, it's all my fault.

That's already been established, if only by myself.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

School vs leaving..

Jessie loves soccer.

Down to business:

My employer is a big enough company that it can have policies which blatantly thwart what the people doing the work are trying to do. Case in point: Now they tell me that the official program of "Intercompany Transfer" can only start in June. But for project reasons, they want me there in March.

The main decision for us is whether we take the kids out of school in March and all go together or I go by myself for a spell.

My options are:

  1. Go in March by myself on 'business trip' status, live in a hotel for the 3 months, then the family joins me in June, after school is over.
  2. Everyone goes in March. We ALL live in a hotel until June, when I could officially become an employee of the Japanese company, get into a house, etc.

So do we leave the kids in school here in KY? Or keep the family together?

Unclear points include:

  • Under option 1: If I'm over there by myself, how often would I be able to come back to visit in KY. I'd like to return to KY for 1 week out of 4, but my request has met with silence. It's still a lame set up, to be gone for 3 weeks in a row out of 4 for 3 months straight, but it could be done.
  • Kathleen's brother Daniel has rumored wedding plans for this summer. Clearly we'd like to attend. June? July? (Note: Expect headlines about heck freezing over around that time.)
  • I'd sure like to be back to KY for the derby. Having been to 10 straight dating back to 1996, I wouldn't want to miss one.

So really, the idea is to make the fuzzy 'business trip' thing work for me from March to June. Set myself (or the whole family) up in a way that suits us best. Get to the wedding, get to the derby, etc. If I go in March, leaving wife and kids behind for 3 months, the official transfer policy wouldn't allow me frequent trips back. However, I can try to twist arms to allow me to return periodically, since it's just business trip and my group is paying, not the Japanese parent company.

And maybe I can spend some time learning how to drive on the left side of the road before the kids get there. I'd prefer not to risk all of our lives during my learning period.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Should I Stay or...

Eye candy: Veronica's Ballet Class (That's me standing in front of the class)

Boring stuff:
As of now, our acceptance of the ITC (Inter-compnay transfer) is tentative. Everyone says I'm going, including myself, but I haven't heard what it will mean in terms of salary, living expenses, housing, etc.

I have a list of questions for the poor HR person who will review the terms and cinditions with me. Cost of living? Housing? Cars? Schools? Returns home?

And then there's the dog. We've got 4 or 5 people who've said 'yeah, we'll take her', but we're still unsure if they all mean it. It's such a big burden that it's hard to tell if the people are just being kind, or if they really intend to take her. Poor little pooch.

One thing we thought of is that we might be able to go to Australia while we're there. Kathleen has a friend from her life in the tourism industry who has relocated there. It would be nice to visit him, and also a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the country.

Guam. I also want to go to Guam. Just because I like the name. And it's close to Japan, somehwhat... I think.