[The American Years]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Old Country

Greetings from ... JAPAN! Where you get exceptional service and don't have to tip! What a country! What a ripoff in the States!

Yes, I am back in the Old Country for only a week's business trip. A note about business hotels in Japan. It's like stepping back in time. Maybe to the 1950's or so? (And not just in their attitudes towards women.)

1) There are strange hair care products in the bathroom.

There is aftershave, which is a bit outdated. There is also both "Hair Tonic" and "Hair Liquid".

I have no idea what either of those do, but I haven't tried. Maybe today.


2) Some of them use keys. Not key cards. They us actual physical keys.

And they expect you to drop off your key at the front desk when we go out for the day, and then you come to the desk to pick it up on the way back in. It's how they know you're not in the room so they can clean it. When you stop at the desk to pick up your key on your way in, they give you your messages then. It's all pretty cute. I pretend I'm Cary Grant when I walk up to the desk. "2542 my dear. And a Vodka Collins."

I haven't got treated like Cary Grant yet. Maybe I'm not using enough hair liquid.

Don't start thinking the Japanese are completely old school. You know of course about the high-tech toilets. Common features of the business hotels.

One more nice thing about Japanese business hotels is they have great bathroom mirrors. Many of them have this no-fog area in the middle of the mirror. Brilliant! Step out of the shower and the mirror is perfectly shave-ready! Why can't my mirror at home be like this!

So the good news: Fog free bathroom mirror.
Bad news: When standing in front of the mirror, I can see a perfectly fog-free view of my chest and abdomen. (Remember? I'm tall.)

But it's okay, after shaving my chest and abdomen ("When in Rome," I say) there's plenty of alcohol-based aftershave to give me that lively fresh feeling.
I was able to take a side trip to Koukura and Nagasaki. Nagasaki is a long way down there. From Nagoya (where my plane landed, nearly in the center of the country) it was nearly 5 hours and $300 by train. Youch.

Yummy seafood in that area.

They have a Peace Park there, obviously. A bit humbler than the Hiroshima equivalent, but lovely and simple. Photos of the trip.

On the train ride back through the tunnels, where cross-winds are less of a concern, the Shinkansen reached 300km/hr. (180 mph.) My own personal land-speed record. The Japanese people around me were not giddy with excitement like I was. Instead, they were asleep. What a country.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

... it's not what you think

I haven't written for a while. That is clear. Some bloggers are once per day, or every other day. I'm once per quarter right now. Sloping down to once per fiscal year I think.

The why is not as clear. Even to me. I have a lot of summary thoughts about my time in Japan, and I'm ready to spill the (soy) beans on it all, but I'm waiting. Waiting to notice more things about life in America and how Japan differs. And especially waiting on myself to find a way to make it funny. That's the real challenge. I must abide by my motto: If you can't say something funny, don't say anything at all.

So for now, let's focus on life in the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky Metropalagia (GCNKM, not the official name). There are things about every area that make it special. This area has those things too.

First on the list: Cornhole.

You heard me.

It's a game. Stop laughing. It really is. It's a backyard/tailgating game played to pass the time while drinking beer.

Each player gets 4 bean bags (1lb each, filled with corn, not beans, duh!) Players take turns throw ing at a wooden box (30 feet away) that has a hole in it. Your bag lands and stays on the board, you get a point. Your bag goes in the hole, you get 3 points. Scoring is done cancellation style - so only the difference in scores is recorded each round. Very simple. But honestly very fun, if you're into that kind of thing. (Did I mention beer already?)

Once we moved to Northern KY, I had to get myself a cornhole set. Where do you find them? Everywhere. There are signs alongside the road which advertise, you can download plans from the cornhole association and build your own, there are homeschool moms making a few bucks sewing together the bags with your favorite team logo on them.What? I buried the lead in the paragraph above? Yes I did. The American Cornhole Association is the governing body for all things Cornhole. (Well, not all things, but things associated with the actual game, anyway.) And you can buy yourself a tournament-ready cornhole set. And some other lovely gear.

And there are tournaments. All over the place. You can't have a church carnival or an outdoor fundraiser of any kind without a cornhole tournament. Our own church has a standing tournament. It's like bingo for people who can stand up. Street corners have signs advertising tournaments almost every weekend. It's crazy.

And you want to know what's crazy? King of Cornhole. There's a big tournament with some serious bag tossers. It's televised locally. There are commentators. Watch as much of this as you can stand. Then try to imagine yourself as the play by play man for the cornhole tournament. "That's a great bag." "He's really in the cornhole zone." "It all comes down to who really wants to be the King of Cornhole." But all kidding aside, this is a pretty dramatic come-from-behind victory. (Did I really just write that?)

From what I know, Cornhole didn't start here in the GCNKM, but it's big here. Friends from Columbus are probably completely familiar with the game. But they might be more likely to call it Baggo, or Corn bags or something more tasteful. But here in Northern KY, we prefer Cornhole.

Stop laughing.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We moved. We've been moved. We were moved. Movers helped.

On our way to Japan we were packed by an American crew and unpacked by a Japanese one. On our way home, it was the opposite.

And for as kind as the American crews are, I am still embarrassed for all the Japanese people who come over here. The efficiency of the Japanese crews is amazing.

When our goods arrived at our new house here, I instructed the crew that we keep shoes outside. That they must take their shoes off when they enter the house. It was difficult for them to get their heads around. How were they going to bring goods in the house, and stop to take their shoes off as they do.

I wish I had video of the Japanese crew carrying out our couch. It was two guys carrying a couch toward the front door. Nothing strange there. Until they reached the entry way where the shoes are kept, they paused, one at a time, to step into their shoes blindly while carrying the full load of the couch. I would have loved to show that to the American crew. "It can be done," I would have said. Then I would have added,"...and you know what? Nobody gets tipped in Japan."

Another source of embarrassment for me. Japanese people come over to America and get subpar service (by their standards) for which they have to pay extra.


OK. Back to Japan. More data to share.

Japanese people, for all their healthy ways, do eventually die. Though I just heard the oldest documented person alive currently is a 114 year-old Japanese woman.

For the body of the departed, cremation is the only way. Not a whole bunch of space available in Japan to lay out full graves, so their cemeteries have stacked up urns.

This cemetery is in Kyoto. The big stones are the family markers, surrounded by smaller stones around containing the ashes of the family members. I took the picture below of the turtle because it was my favorite family marker.

Now how do they get there. In a hearse, obviously. But a hearse in Japan doesn't look like the one you and I are used to. For one, they are smaller. I guess smaller people, in smaller boxes require smaller cars. Secondly, the Japanese usually go for Buddhist rites for their departed. So the hearse becomes ornate, like a Buddhist temple.

This one it typical, thanks to Miss Tracy for the contribution!

Below is one we saw in Kyoto. The natural wood look is not common, so it must be super fancy. Kathleen and the kids and my brother Daniel are there.

A video of the the hearse being loaded. (Listen for the bell. It's a sound known across Japan as the bell of farewell for the departed. I didn't know that when I set my cell phone ringtone to the same sound...)

One more thing about hearses. It's a childish superstition that when a hearse passes by you have to cover your thumbs. You make a fist with the thumbs inside. If you don't, the superstition maintains, you will not be able to see your parents on their deathbed. Pretty grim superstition to lay on kids.

It has something to do with the thumb being the 'parent finger'. I never saw anyone doing that, but I've heard that adults do the same, just to be sure.

Mata ne.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sugar, sugar

Remember my post about Japanese bottled green tea? I wrote in praise of it. No calories, no sugar, no fake sugar. Just cold green tea, and it is delicious. I listed it as one of the things I was going to miss about Japan.

A couple of people wrote back to say that such tea was widely available in the states. So my spirits were lifted.

Since we've been back, I've been on the lookout for it, hoping that maybe America had caught on to the magic of plain old cold green tea.

Not so. There are green tea drinks in my local store, but they are all sweetened.

Even in the designer fancy pants tea aisle, there are such things as 'diet' tea. Can you imagine? The assumption is that tea MUST have sweetener in it. But nothing unsweetened!

I'm in Kentucky, close enough to the American South that 'Sweet Tea' is a common drink. When you order iced tea, you get asked 'sweet or unsweet'. And the answer is almost always sweet. A yankee might ask, "Why not just get tea, and then sweeten it yourself with those handy little packets on your table?"

Silly northerner. It doesn't taste the same. It really doesn't. If you like sweetened tea, boil the sugar into the water. It makes a big difference.

So, I'm praising Southern sweet tea, but condemning the sweetness at the same time.

Oh conflict of conflicts! Boredom of boredom! How bout some photos for the fun of it.


Near Nagoya there is one of the ceramics centers of Japan, called Seto.

We got a chance to take a ceramics class in Seto during our last week in Japan. It was just like that scene from Ghost, except our experience was much more tasteful, and Patrick Swayze only stopped in for a second. However, unfortunately he wasn't dead.

We had a great instructor, who stepped us through the thing patiently. Under his guidance, we made some great pieces. But when he left us to try by ourselves, we failed miserably. It was still fun.

One of Kathleen's completed pieces, now in our home.

On the bottom of handmade ceramics is the name of the artist or the studio that produced it, typically in Kanji (Chinese Characters that are used for people and place names). We, as foreigners, don't have kanji for our names; we use the phonetic alphabet that is used for foreign words. Well, for the sake of our ceramic creations, we created ceramics names. (Nommes de Wheel?) I chose Kyo Jin, which means Giant. Kathleen chose Typhoon Flower. Her name can be mispronounced in Japanese to sound like Katrina, which the Japanese have heard of. (Typhoon = Hurricaine.) And she likes flowers. So it's there, on the bottom of her creation. Very rare one-of-a-kind handmade rice bowl! One of only a handful of pieces made by the exclusive Typhoon Flower ceramics studio!

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Return, revised edition

So here's our story. We landed on April 9th, and no, you haven't herad from me since.

I have taken a new role with my company. However my goal is still the same (total world domination).

This new role, (which could be called a promotion, except for the paycut...) means that we have to move.

We had been living in Lexington KY, but now I have to change locations, to Erlanger, KY. It's a move from Central KY to Northern KY. To most of you, this means almost nothing. From Central BFE to Northern BFE? Well, BFD.

It might seem strange, but within Kentucky, there is an identity problem. It doesn't know if it's a Southern state or a Midwestern state, or mid-Atlantic?

(The rest of the world has a problem with Kentucky also. Once you make fun of them for marrying cousins, what's left? New Kentucky Tourism slogan: "Kentucky. Inbreeding is just the Start.")

So Central Kentucky is horse country. Bluegrass country. Northern KY is a suburb of Cincinnati Ohio. Many of you might know that the Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky. Don't get me started on Eastern Kentucky vs Western Kentucky.

Consider the states that Kentucky borders. There are seven. One shy of the record (held by Tennessee. Showoffs!) Kentucky has True South states as neighbors: Tennessee and Virginia. Then it has midwestern neighbors: Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio. Then it has (what every state has) a neighbor to make fun of: West Virginia.

Everyplace in the world has a neighboring location that can be derided for the residents' penchant for barnyard romance. For the French, it's the Belgium. For Tennesseans, it's Kentucky. For Kentuckians, it's West Virginia. For Californians, it's any state that doesn't touch an ocean, plus any southern state that does.

Enough chit chat. Here's some photos.

The kids on their second first day of school. The last 4 school years, we have started school in one place, then moved in the spring, thereby giving them two first days of school. So far, there has been little rebellion. They have the resilliance for sure. And now school is out. So this picture is old before you see it.

After we got here, we stayed in a hotel for almost 2 months, while looking for a house in Northern Kentucky. And now we have one. I will share exterior photos only for now, since the interior is :
(a) not our decorating tastes. (Example: Pink toilets. Two of them. You heard me. )
(b) strewn with full boxes, empty boxes, and the junk that used to be in the boxes but doesn't yet have a home.

(Street view.)

My favorite thing about the house?


That's the number of mature shade trees in the back yard. At least that's how many I counted. It's hard to count them when they're all moving around like crazy. (Above is the view down from our deck.)

And there's ivy and stone as well. See for yourself. Come and see up close if you want. All are welcome! Anytime! (Below is the view up from the back yard.)

New address

1686 Brierwood Ct
Florence KY 41042

Phone - not yet established. Maybe by next time I post.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Return

*Small note. Three apologies before I start. 1) Been a long time. Sorry. 2) No photos of the kids, and no real update on our life. Sorry. 3) Kind of a lame post follows. Sorry. I'm out of practice.

Yes indeed we have returned from Japan, nearly two months ago now. And I have so much that I want to write about that I can't get myself to start.

At first I thought I would just go through the last bits of photos and videos and fun from our last weeks in Japan, and finish this thing off. Now I know that just won't do.

There is a lot about the US, and about the area in which we live now, which is notable. (Blog-worthy is a term which has been outlawed by international decree, so I prefer 'notable'.)

Take for instance the fact that there is now a place called the "Creation Museum". And it's in Kentucky. And it's in the very county (Boone County, KY) into which we are now moving. And people pay money to go to it. And people paid lots of money to put it in. Millions of dollars. There's a blog topic right there.

Next, the Hot Brown sandwich. Another topic right there.

And Cincinnati chili.

And fat people. They have them here in America. I had nearly forgotten.

So anyway, this is just a note to break my own silence, and to get the ink flowing again. This is more a note to myself than to anyone else. I'm telling my inner dude that it's okay to go on. It's okay to write a little bit and allow it to suck. It's okay to continue. The dawn will come. The day will break. And there will always be someone with a wackiness, be it in the greater Cincinnati area or in Japan, which deserves comment.

Quick one one the Creation museum. My challenge in writing about it is to not get mean. I need to respect that people in the readership might well believe everything that's held in that museum.

My biggest problem with it is that it's wasteful. I mean to say, that nobody is going to be convinced by it. It is an example of preaching to the choir. If I believe the museum's message, it doesn't serve me (and may actually disserve me -- more on that later). If I disagree with the museum's treatment of natural history, I'm not going to go, and I'll more strongly think that people of faith are crazy.

Let's face it, people of faith are crazy. All faiths have their wackiest fringe elements. And it's those elements which regrettably make the evening news.

Protestant Christians have crazy televangelists sponging money off old people and people making museums featuring dinosaurs on Noah's ark.

Catholics have people traveling hundreds of miles to kneel in adoration of a piece of toast with an image of Mary on it. And on a more sinister side, they have men of the cloth who horribly mistreat young men and women.

Think of a Buddhist and you are going to think of a bald man in a robe.

And the raging example is that there are a few thousand Muslims in a religion of millions and millions who are all we think of when we think of a Muslim.

Identifying a religion by its fringes is what TV is good at.

And this museum in Boone County, Kentucky, new home of yours truly, take Christians and presents them as unthinking lunatics, on a par with flat-earthers.

Let me sum something up for people on both sides of this so-called debate.

Creation and/or evolution? We don't know. We can't know. I think it doesn't matter.

If you are a Christian, or a believer of any type, you should believe that God has publicly revealed what He intended to reveal. Different faiths have different things that they include in that revelation. If God had deemed it to be important, he would have spelled it out. There would have been prophets, burning bushes, skywriting... something to tell us that it is important.

We can't prove God exists by looking at fossils. And, we can't prove He doesn't.

(Here's the disservice part.) If I believe it wholesale, it makes me a one-track defender of the faith, not allowing for different opinions on how we all got here.

By framing the argument about the existence of God around strict Creationism like this museum does, Christians deter people of scientific leaning from pursuing faith at all.

Let's say I'm a secular humanist, no Christian leanings at all. One day I hear about a Christian person doing something completely wonderful for humanity. Say, Jimmy Carter and Habitat for Humanity, or World Vision and hungry people. Mother Theresa in Calcutta. Chuck Colson helping and befriending prisoners. I think, "Golly, that's great. I'd like to build houses for people who need them. I'd like to help my fellow humans."

Then I hear about this Creation museum. "Wow, Christians are downright bass ackwards!"

My civic righteousness which could have blossomed into true faith has been nipped in the bud. I go back to playing playstation, reading GQ and decide to make the study and drinking of wine my new religion.

For people of all faiths, please DON'T ACT CRAZY! You'll not make many converts.

In my view, the simple and shocking truth of Christianity is that we're supposed to love people when we don't want to. It's what makes us human. We feel a call to be kind to the next fellow, even though it is not a biological imperative. It's not an instinct like the instinct to eat, or to reproduce. Yet we feel it. We have a conscience. We have a sense of right and wrong, somewhere deep down. Most religions (I am way over my head here, but I swim on) are structured around informing and perfecting our conscience, directing our will toward being the more human.

It has nothing to do with stinking fossils! The debate over whether God exists is best discussed about the existence of the soul, not the existence of dinosaurs on a boat! (or Snakes on a Plane for that matter.)

By the way, this debate (God exists vs God doesn't exist, and to a lesser extent: God is Clapton vs Clapton is God) has gone on for a long time. Smart people engage in this topic. CS Lewis, Thomas Acquinas, RC Sproul, Frederick Nieche, Voltaire. And many other people whose works I haven't read. And I don't think any of them give one dang paragraph about dinosaurs! It's not on the radar in the rational debate on this topic.

Evil. That's a topic worth discussing. If you believe in God, it's a difficult question. "Why is there evil?" Smart people have written volumes on it. But "Were there dinosaurs on Noah's arc" shouldn't be discussed, or curated in a museum and sold for $12 a head worth of admission.

Strict Creationism is not science. Or if it is, it's pretty bad science. It will always come down to a circular argument which perpetuates itself. So it should stay out of the argument entirely. (I wish it had stayed out of Boone County, KY entirely.)

Here's my position in a nutshell. Faith is NOT opposed to Science. Science is not the enemy of Faith. Rather, through science we learn how amazing creation really is. Too amazing to be summed up in a few verses in Genesis... so I'm guessing the author of the book of Genesis left out a few things.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Daniel in Shibuya. Total Rockstar.

Shibuya Crossing


Things my brother pointed out about Japan, part IV. You'd think that I would come up with the interesting insights, but dude is here 2 weeks and he gets some zingers. Maybe things I've noticed without really noticing.

Let's review D's observations:
1 Not a lot of public seating
2 Difficult to eat vegeterian
3 They don't say no.

And now:
4 Cute sells.

I was trying to explain the difference between American advertizing and Japanese, and it took me about a 5 minutes.

Me:"You know in America there is always some half dressed model who is trying to look angry and important, and that's supposed to be sexy, but really it makes me want to leave. Well, in Japan it's different. There are girls in ads, but never sexy-like. And there are tons of cartoon characters everywhere... blah blah blah."

Daniel:"Cute Sells."

Me: "Oh. Right. That's it."


A few photos to illustrate.

There are three main currier companies. "Black Cat" seems to be everywhere.


The other currier company has the helpful ant as their symbol.


The symbol for the police here is the owl. Cute. Push his beak to cross the street!

Pharmacy Logo.

And which American company (at least I think it's American), offering supplemental insurance do you think had the advertizing cuteness built-in?

There are a lot more. But every time I upload a photo, I get the "Explorer Must Quit" With the Send Report or Don't Send. I was hitting the "Send Report" button, but Bill Gates hasn't called yet to see what's wrong. So I'm going to give up for tonight.


Mata Ashta.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Photos from Nikko.

No particular order.