[The American Years]

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where everyone has a cellphone, and nobody, not one person, has it on a clip on their belt. It’s just not done. They are all in pockets and purses. I haven’t figured this one out yet. Is the American cell phone belt clip a holdover from Old West gunslinger culture? I think I finally have my master's thesis topic!

The Nagoya subway system has a women-only car on each train until 9am on weekdays. I have several guesses why that might be. I'll leave it up to you to hazard your own guesses in the Comments section of this blog.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy a nice bowl of the cereal whose box I've scanned below. A cereal named after yours truly! I had to own it.

My company has a ‘Happy Friday’ policy, which means that all employees must leave the building at 5pm on Friday. It is not a suggestion. It is not a guideline. It is a requirement. As it nears 5:30, managers get out their clipboards and start taking names of those who are sitting in the office.
Since my company has many offices and facilities in this relatively small town, it makes for a traffic crunch starting at about 5:01. Just getting out of the parking lot can take 10 minutes or more. So instead of sitting at your desk and being somewhat productive, you sit in traffic. So even though you leave at 5pm, thanks to the traffic you get home at almost the same time as every other workday. But the company doesn’t care. So long as you’ve badged out and you are offsite, they don’t care where you are. It’s almost like a bar at closing time: "You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here."
My company also believes in ‘flex-time’ where if you come in early, you can leave early, so long as you work some ‘core hours’ from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. So you would think that employees would come in 30 minutes early on Friday, and leave at 4:30, beating the rush. Yes, I would think so too. But nobody does. I left the office last Friday at 4:45 and was the only one.

Why don’t the Japanese rank-and-file leave a few minutes early and avoid the traffic? I believe it’s an image issue. The employees must show their devotion by working every available minute. And it must be a fairly compelling issue, because there is nobody, not one Japanese person, leaving 10 minutes before the bell on Friday. Luckily for me, I’m a gaijin. A foreigner. So no matter how many hours I work, I’m still saddled with an insurmountable image problem: I’m not Japanese, so I can’t be a hard worker.

My leaving a few minutes before the bell on Friday fits the image of the American worker perfectly. Nevermind that I’m in the office up to an hour before most Japanese. That doesn’t get me any image points, because the people who would need to see me in order to bolster my image are not in yet, so I get no credit.
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This weekend we visited the grounds of Nagoya Castle, for a charity walkathon. The walkathon is one of the largest foreigner-organized charitable events in Japan. We went. We walked. Somebody may have done some skipping, but I won't say who.

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An excess of courtesy is discourtesy.
- Japanese Proverb

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Greetings from Japan, where people wear white masks if they’re sick to avoid spreading their germs… either that or there are a lot of hobbyist surgeons on the trains.

Well we made it. And the travel really wasn’t too bad. 13 hours on the plane from Detroit was just not enough time in business class for the kids. The reclining seat with the massager, the movies on demand, including tons of Disney, the food and snacks and drinks as you want them. They just didn’t want to leave. Well, that's an exaggeration, but they really did great.

Even 13 hours later they were excited to be in Japan, and see all the new things.

The meal service on the plane offers 3 western style meals (beef chicken fish) and a Japanese meal. Though I’m sure it has happened, I have never seen an American get the Japanese meal. Everyone wants to get the last taste of American food before the sushi starts, or the first taste if it’s the return flight. Until this flight. Kathleen showed her enthusiasm for her new life by ordering and truly enjoying the Japanese meal. Kudos!

After our flight, there was a 30 minute wait for the bus, then the hour-long bus ride, then finally a walk with all our bags through Nagoya train station to the hotel. (Thanks for the ‘spinner’ suitcases, Smiths! Fantastic!)

Finally after all that, you can imagine what we looked like as Veronica and I were waiting at an elevator. (With all the bags in tow, we had to take separate elevators from Zane and Kathleen.) A Japanese business man approached me to tell me how cute and adorable Veronica is. He said “I really thought she was a doll, until she moved.” With his accent and my sleepiness, I thought he said she was a ‘dog’ not ‘doll’, and I nearly went karate-kid on him. But it was very nice, and probably a sign of the reaction she’ll be getting everywhere she goes.

The second night, Veronica and Kathleen had lagged out, and Zane was awake and hungry, so I took him to get some noodles. When the staff at the restaurant saw him, they put a fork down in front of him, correctly spotting him as a chopsticks novice. But Zane wouldn’t touch the fork. He was bound and determined to use the chopsticks, crossed up and clumsy and all. He worked hard at it, and lifted enough ramen out of the bowl to fill him up. Again, kudos!


The first day we visited the house the kids opened the doors to their rooms to find brand new bikes! We stowed new bikes for them in the air shipment. Aren't we devious?


So in being back in Kentucky for a week, I heard plenty of blabber about high gas prices. Were they high? Gosh I guess so. Here in Japan I just filled up my tank and only paid 144. That’s yen per liter. Want to know what that is in Dollars per Gallon? Then you do the math. I prefer not to know. Lucky for me there are 2 conversion factors there, and if I concentrate on not figuring it out, I will never know. Ignorance is bliss.

I reset the trip odometer after I filled up, and I had gone 480 kilometers on my tank, and it cost me 5400 yen to fill up. Is that good or bad? Again, I prefer not to know.

What I do know is you should all stop your sobbing about your gas prices there. Nearly the cheapest in the world, I’d say.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Greetings from Kentucky where the two primary categories of wine are not red and white, but rather Storebought and Homemade.

And by the time many of you read this, we'll be in Japan.

We're just hours away from flying out. I'm awake at 4am doing some final suitcase organization. I was only in KY for a week, and tried not to completely abide by local time, hoping to lessen jetlag when I get back to Japan. Right now Kathleen and the kids are sawing their last American logs for a while. Starting tomorrow, they'll switch to sawing bamboo. We fly out at 11am this morning.

I am actually looking forward to entering business class on the airplane to Japan and absorbing all the dirty looks from people for bringing children on board. It's such a natural reaction. "There goes my peaceful flight, and any chance of sleep," everyone will be thinking. I'm no different. It's the way I react as well. Because, you know, as a fancy pants business class traveler, I was never a child. I was born as an adult in a suit.

It's my experience after making this flight dozens of times, that grownups are the most likely to break the unwritten rules of long flights. Rules like "Never open the window shades." "Never lean on the seat in front of you as you move toward the aisle." "Keep it down, people are sleeping." I have been in the cabin with kids before, and they all seem to do fine. Let's hope ours do as well.

My primary reason for being in KY for this past week was to be present as our house was packed up. We'll receive our ocean shipment around 6/12.

There were 2 big highlights for me this week:

Highlight (1) My brother Mark and his kids made it down for an afternoon visit, BBQ, and Squirtgunnery.

The next day Veronica, who typically sports a dress and a girly hairdo to school (see photo), insisted on a T Shirt and straight combed hair like cousin Emily above.

Highlight (2) I was able to attend and assist photographer Mark Cornelison at the 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby. My string of 12 straight is unbroken! Japan and all! After the Winner's Circle presentations, the photographers have their own "Run for the Roses" where we pillage the the roses from the stands there. I can't contain my joy. (Thanks to David Coyle for bringing out the real me in this photo.)

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