Sunday, May 11, 2008


Random Jet-lagged Thoughts

1. I care too much about my United Airlines Mileage Status. I fear becoming a United Airlines promotion addict. My mother has over 1 million miles which leads to special benefits. Financial friends (ie people who actually earn money consistently and then manage to save some of it) declare that miles are a worthless currency.

I still care too much about my Status.

2. I may never find the perfect luggage. I'm constantly told on trips to Japan that my bags are "big." You wanna see big? Check out the carousel at any US airport. Heck, for that matter, look and see what behemoths the Japanese are pushing around in Narita. I'm a lean and mean packer, people. I rarely have to check anything. But, but, but . . . for those side trips to the countryside, I still want less luggage.

My solution this time was to take two sets of bags, both with wheels (and both of which can fit into a 777 overhead cabin). I sent the larger bag ahead to a hotel in Tokyo where it waited for me. You can do this kind of thing cheaply in Japan. It is normal.

The problem? Bags with wheels are heavy, and while I could attach them to each other, and did, they were, well, heavy. Because they both had wheels and hardware.

3. I ate more sushi on this trip than I have ever eaten in my life. This partly has to do with the fact that my husband and I found a conveyer belt sushi restaurant in Tokyo station, and going through Tokyo station is a necessary evil when you are going to and from the airport, or picking up the bullet train.

I don't care about mercury poisoning. Whatever. Every few years they come up with some new food scare. Don't eat eggs. Four times a week is okay. Pork is the other white meat. Lack of red meat leads to iron deficiency. You can make up nutrition through vitamins. You can't make up nutrition through vitamins. Six out of ten women are "disordered eaters" and three out of four women behave or think abnormally when it comes to food! We're all sick! People who live a long time eat of lot of fish. Blah, blah, blah. I am getting old. I wish people would just shut up and eat.

4. I am worried about Japan. I will post more about this, but . . . it seems to have some very strange problems. This makes me sad. What is it with dressing up your dog in outfits? What is it with all these baby carriages filled with dogs? Where have all the children gone? What is it with these MILFs toting their kids around? WTF?

5. Despite number 4, manners are still better in Japan than the US. We suck at manners. I'm so not interested in getting on a plane and hearing stewardesses yack about how "Oh, well, this was a fun trip at least. Oh my God! I'm so tired!" or in having to tell a stewardess about 4 times that "I am not done eating yet." Are people unable to ask: "Are you finished? May I take that for you?" Does everyone have to act like they are on a reality television show, no matter the setting?

Okay. Here's a more interesting observation. Three days into a trip in Japan and my mother and I were sitting in a coffee shop in Kyoto. In came a foreigner (meaning, a white woman) with two kids. I knew they were trouble, the sort of children to whom everything--including bad behavior--is "explained," which seems to be a trend in child-rearing these days. The younger child, a girl, had a tendency to scream, to which her mother said, "Now, do you think this is a place where it is okay to scream? If you scream, you will have to play outside."

The girl kept screaming.

After the third screaming, my mother, ever the ferocious enforcer when she wants to be, turned around and said quite sharply (and in English) "Hey! Stop it! This is Japan. You do not scream in Japan. That is not acceptable."

Everyone--including me--was stunned. The girl was stunned. Her older brother, her tormenter who had been the cause of the screaming, was stunned. He even tried to defend his sister, but my mother turned her steely eyes on him and said, "No. You do not scream here. That does not work. End of story." And, really, even though Japan has seriously changes since the Showa era and I don't get the dog-and-MILF-thing, at least the kids don't scream.

I felt sorry for the foreign mother. She looked harried, like she was just looking for some place to rest for, oh, fifteen minutes so she could caffeine it up a bit. I thought that her kids looked mixed--like me--but that she was divorced or separated. She did not seem married. Her daughter looked wild. None of them apologized. They just ate as quickly as possible and departed. The Japanese in the coffee shop pretended to ignore the whole thing. I was embarrassed. I hate being the center of attention. I like observing. But . . . I was secretly enormously proud of my mother. Very proud of her to try to battle social ills and try to set them straight. I love that about her.

Deep down, I know I have the same temperamental capacity. I was on a train, for example, to the airport and this Japanese woman put about 10 packs of sugar (I am not kidding) in her bottle of green tea, then proceeded to pour in some kind of protein powder. She made a mess. Powder everywhere. My mother was laughing hysterically. I mean, who puts in 10 packs of sugar? And if you do put in 10 packs of sugar, who are you kidding that you are going to make up the nutritional value with protein powder? WTF? Drink Coca-Cola, for god's sake. Put down any pretension that you care about health, go off any binge diets and just pork yourself out. Remember. Six out of ten women are "disordered eaters."

There was dust everywhere. On her clothes, on the little tray-table, on the floor. She made a show--midway through the sugar debacle--of putting a Celine monogrammed handkerchief on her lap. Then she just dumped the spilled sugar from the handkerchief on the floor. My mother kept laughing, while wondering aloud to me if the woman, possibly, "wasn't actually Japanese." I couldn't take it. I opened up my bag, pulled out my handi-wipes and handed them to her across the aisle. "Please, use these," I said in Japanese.

This time, it was my mother's turn to be embarrassed. But I think maybe she was kinda proud too.

I don't know. Back to the kid thing; if children were capable of higher reasoning, then they wouldn't go on misbehaving even after their poor behavior has been "explained" to them, would they? I seem to remember getting "explanations" after the fact, but at the time--misbehaving in public--my parents enforced good old-fashioned discipline. Are we all so scarred by the divorces and publicly f*cked up behavior of parents in the 70s and 80s that we are going to go nuts confusing "explaining" with "loving"? What kind of a narcissistic generation are we going to end up with in 20 years?

But who am I to judge. I can't even discipline my cats. And obviously I can be ill-tempered and ill-mannered in public.

I think I'll stay home for a while and just hide out.

6. I have never been so frustrated with my Japanese language (dis)ability in my life. Never. It's like I slipped 20 IQ points. I'm like a blonde beach bimbo at this point, and lest you accuse me of stereotyping, do remember that I'm from California and know the blondes of whom I speak. I'm going to have to think about this and decide what to do.

7. There is no paradise on earth. Home is the closest thing to it.

okaeri :)
Hi Marie -

a) I agree - what is up with the dogs in outfits? Also, did you notice all dogs are smaller than a football?
b) I also agree with the clear difference in manners between the US and Japan.
c) I love conveyor belt sushi, too! I found a great place by my apartment in Yokohama. Yum.
d) I liked the pictures from your trip.

Sorry I missed you in Japan - next time, I hope. I was hit hard by jet lag coming back from Belfast and was pretty much out of action for a week. It was worth it though!

Anything new with the book?
I'm automatically trying to imagine what I'd do as the father of a small boy prone to the occasional tantrum at that age (when there's more than one child with you and one kicks off in somewhere quiet and people stare disapprovingly, it's a nightmare; you just want to vanish into the ground and die. I should have got over that sort of thing but I still get horribly embarrassed). I'm also thinking of the only experience I have of watching a two year-old half-Japanese child being disciplined by his Japanese mother - the two-year old certainly kept quiet in restaurants.
Thanks, moonrat. I have a small rat for you from Japan. ;-)

Brian--public congrats on your exams. That must be such a relief and must have also contributed to your exhaustion once you returned! I've never really explored Yokohama, but everyone raves about it, so I'll be curious to get your take some time in the future. Thanks for the kind words about the photos. I'm having tremendous difficulty with photos on Japundit, and have to figure something out so I can post relevant info. And, yes, I noticed all the dogs are essentially footballs with legs.

Dad: You know, I felt terrible for the Mom who, as I said, looked tired and harried and as though she was enduring something of which the kids weren't aware. Maybe she was just tired. I don't know.

It's interesting how this post elicited emails and phonecalls from people. Child-rearing is an enormously personal and private subject and I think to discipline a stranger's child is seen as a faux pas. On the other hand, if it "takes a village," then perhaps it isn't always such a bad thing. I don't know. I'm sure I'll have my own views when and if I ever am a mother. ;-)
Cats are not to be disciplined, they are here to remind us that we used to be wild too before cubicles and mortgages killed our spirits. Let those cats roam, shed, lick their bums, etc. freely!

Though peeing freely is not OK.
I wish that your mother had been nearby this past weekend in Funabashi. We met up with some friends, young Japanese couple and their two children, who had recently moved back to Japan from Hong Kong. The entire time, the kids were outrageously loud and rambunctious, something which I place partial blame to my husband and the father's constant rough-housing with the two whenever we were over -- something I gathered wouldn't go over nearly as well in Japanese public places as they did in Hong Kong. Absolute mortification. Trying to calm them down was useless, even with our constant scolding. (I too can't discipline my cats, but I recall my students being quite scared of me when I taught! sigh)

Before we departed, the mother, Matsumi, quietly joked that, despite her dislike of Japan, she hoped that the disciplined schools would help with their behavior. I'm now hoping that her mother lives nearby.

4. I don't get the dogs in carriage thing. Or the dressing up of pets. The latter is done here during the winter time and the former is done here several times (though still with some shock from the crowd). I couldn't get over how blase people were about it in Japan! Nor how people simply carried their puny dogs in their bags or baskets. What??
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