Thursday, May 28, 2009

may (c)

So, a lot of news coming from this part of the world so just to reassure you, I thought I would show you where we are. You see the word "FUKUOKA" on the map. Okay, so if you go a little bit under the first "U" in Fukuoka then you'll see a group of small green dots. Our island is the largest of those dots. We are really close to South Korea but luckily South Korea does a good job at blocking the temperamental North. No one here is too worried right now. They are mainly still fretting about the swine flu and if the Ironman Japan Triathlon will take place, and thus bring hundreds of worldly and possibly infected athletes to our sleepy island. Masks are sold out here as people stockpile them or send them to loved ones in cities where the masks can't stay on the shelves longer than a minute. I think it is like living next to any crazy neighbor, you get used to their antics and threats after a while. So, if you were wondering, we're okay for now.

Friday, May 22, 2009

may (b)

the light is grey and changing, stretching into a new day. for nico, as soon as it is not pitch black outside we must get up. luckily it is only me who he insists on joining him, allowing sebastian and jason to sleep until a normal waking hour. nico has a cold and between sneezes sips milk (i know, not the best thing for a cold but that is what he wanted and i don't argue with two year olds at four in the morning) and laughs at grover on sesame street.

it is friday and i am happy as it has been a long teaching week. nothing exactly terrible but just an overall dissatisfaction with the job. that is the way teaching goes; it is very cyclical and i am sure something more inspirational will occur next week to make up for the mundane of this past week. i love my students but feel trapped by the limits of the position, of how much i can accomplish as a foreign language teacher meeting with them between 20 to 60 minutes once a week. the weekend will pass in a flash but it is my time and i savor it. i enjoy racing dinosaurs and doing intensive cleaning, preparing for another five days.

last night we had the first corn of the season. corn here on the island is really popular. it grows all over the place and is a ubiquitous summer food. the boys had already eaten when i came in so when i popped down to the neighborhood store to gather some food for jason's and my dinner, i only picked up two ears. a definite mistake. as soon as they saw what i had, they were jumping up and down in excitement. so a half a piece for each of us. they laughed while they ate it, so thoroughly enjoying such a simple food as blanched corn on the cob. no salt, no butter. just plump yellow and white kernels, freshly shucked. afterwards, they begged for some of the plain yogurt i picked up for breakfast. to have for dessert. simple pleasures.

time is passing so quickly it's a wonder i bother to complain about the long work week. today, being the 22nd of May, brings nico up to two and a half. which means in six more months he'll be three. and of course in less than a month, a certain someone will turn six. six. i'm trying to wrap my head around it. some days he seems up for the job but others makes me wish we could have an extension.
other may happenings include my parents' 47th anniversary, which i missed congratulating them on. so, happy belated congratulations to both of you. (aside to Dad, "I know it isn't easy to put up with Mom but you do it so well". an aside to Mom, "I know it isn't easy to put up with Dad but you do it so well" :) ).
(there is also a sister's birthday coming up but i can only mention it here if i also pass on birthday salutations to my other sister and my brother, both of whom i forgot to wish happy, happy birthday. i think it has something to do with my brain not working so well during the winter. )

it really doesn't feel like may here. the days are mild and the nights are cool. the rainy season is fast approaching and for pedestrians, we have to hope it won't be too bad this year. the good thing is that the rainy season brings on the hydrangeas, my favorite flower. there is one shade of the blossoms that can only be described as perfect dusk.

time to make coffee and breakfast for the sleepers. hope you are all well. take care.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

may (a)

Mail Order:

Today we received the goods from a recent shopping trip to Muji. Living disconnected from most everything, we have become regular mail order customers. We figured out early on that for a small fee, it was a lot better to have the store deliver our usually cumbersome order a week later. It absolutely beats trying to haul it on the ferry and back to our abode. Today, in fact we received some much needed bedding (sheets, pillows, pillow cases!), storage units for clothes (which will hopefully solve the difficulty of cramming and uncramming clothes everyday), as well as a new oscillating fan with a nice "mote patroller" as Sebastian calls it (translation: remote control). We are doing what we can to prepare for the upcoming summer. After a harrowing winter, we know better than to face another extreme season unarmed.

I have factored a small monthly allowance into our monthly budget for ordering books from the Japanese Amazon. We have tried to resist this indulgence but we need books. Our other regular place to order from is Tengu, a natural health store that provides us with beans beyond edamame and azuki, as well as tamari for Jason and nutritional yeast for the boys (they call it cheese).

One place I try to avoid shopping at is the Foreign Buyers' Club, as the goods are too tempting (for sentimental, homesick reasons) for the prices they charge. I understand why the prices are so inflated but still, it is hard to justify it. We do our best to make do with what we have and for the most part, we are far from suffering. I was just looking through their online catalog and for fun adding anything that I liked to the cart. The grand total was a stunning amount of yen. Yikes. No, I don't really need Honey Nut Cheerios for roughly 14 bucks. Or that bag of Cape Cod Salt and Vinegar chips (up there with cheese on foods I miss) for 6 dollars.

So the point of this post. Enjoy what you have where you are. And if you are in a place where Salt and Vinegar chips aren't the same price as a movie ticket, pop a bag open and enjoy them for me. And I, in turn, will enjoy something that is here for you. Like Kyushu Shoyu chips (soy sauce) from Calbee. Believe me, it is a fair trade.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

So, we are headed again to Nagasaki this weekend to take care of some immigration related business. This means I won't be here to wish all you lovely mothers a happy, happy Mother's Day. Instead of carnations or a card done up in pastels, I have made a donation to Women for Women International with all of you mothers near and far in mind.

Lately, I have been reading the news in the morning and this means I start every day with more awareness of the dire and tragic circumstances that other women wake up to. Such as the recent attempt of Sri Lankan refugees to flee from warfare to India. I was particularly struck by the part about the mother who managed to save her eight month old son from death by breastfeeding him until her own final hours, a day before the rescue.

Or this disturbing piece on the status of women in Afghanistan.

I am not sharing these with you simply to depress you, though be careful as they aren't exactly going to add a skip to your walk. I share these with you because both of them illustrate how amazing mothers are, how incredibly strong even when all power is stripped away. When I came across Women for Women International, I knew that I had to give what I could because really, as a mother, I am incredibly lucky. My children are safe and healthy and within reach and I am so, so grateful for that.

Happy Mother's Day.
With Much Love,

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Call Me Okaasan: A Review

Over my extended spring break last month, I had the opportunity to read the soon to be released Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering, edited by Suzanne Kamata. This book is a collection of personal essays written mainly by expat mothers living around the globe as well as a few by multiculturally-minded mothers. As an expat mother, I have often searched for such a book as the predicament of raising children outside of your home culture and known resources is often isolating and frankly, difficult. As these eloquently written essays illustrate, it is definitely a challenge but within that challenge there is ground for growth as both parents and as humans.

All of the essays share a poignant perspective that captures the triumphs and defeats involved with raising children abroad and at home. The unique situations faced by the different writers such as Saffia Farr’s experience with the antiquated health care in Kyrgyzstan during her first pregnancy (“Dr. Bucket in Bishkek”, page 30) or Devorah Lifshutz’s trials in attempting to raise her children bilingually in Israel (“Promises to Myself”, page 169) allows readers insight into worlds that aren’t described in travel guides. These mothers are on the ground, struggling with controlling in-laws, uncooperative schools, prying neighbors. They witness their children growing into people unimagined at conception, accepting host languages as the dominant form of communication within the home, and allowing themselves to surrender to what it means to be truly bicultural.

Out of all of these excellent essays, the one that hit closest to home for me was Holly Thompson’s “Two Versions of Immersion” (page 113). In it, Thompson described her experience moving, much like we did, with her husband and small children to Japan without too much consideration of what it really means to live here as an expat family. I honestly was very disturbed by this essay because it made me realize the extreme amount of effort and energy involved with bringing children up through the Japanese school system. It’s not that I am lazy: it is just I don’t know how I can manage to learn enough Japanese in order to support my kids in their education. And then the education system that Thompson described fanned my own sparks of concern about the topic. It was interesting that the older child, who had gone to school in the States before moving to Japan, was the one who felt bullied and bored in school. His younger sister, on the other hand, who had started preschool in Japan did not share his problems and thrived in Japanese schools. This made me wonder if it was just a matter of not having a basis for comparison that made life easier for the daughter. In the end, it seemed that the family had found a healthy balance of culture and language, which is encouraging and inspiring.

I was particularly drawn to this essay besides for the shared host country because both of the parents were American. Most bicultural families that we encounter typically have one expat parent and one native parent, thus a rather different situation than what we are facing right now. The book is very satisfying in this regard as it includes such a wide variety of situations that there is bound to be some essay that the reader can relate to. This book may be written by multicultural mothers but the audience will be much broader than that small sliver of the population. Families considering moving abroad, as many are in these dire economic times, as well as readers just curious about a more grounded experience of life in foreign countries will benefit from this book. Beyond the journey-bound, other readers will profit from truths that have no borders, shared candidly and poetically in the pages of Call Me Okaasan.