A Time as Big as Our Feet

The kids have threatened to get their dad the Life Is Good t-shirt that says half-full. On it is a simple drawing of a glass with a line in the middle. I’m just saying Rich’s natural disposition in life can be on the half-empty side. He cares deeply and that can come across as fretting. He takes personal responsibility to a new level and that can interfere with his own engagement. As the date for our departure grew closer, his intensity grew exponentially. So I was pleasantly surprised, at how fun loving he is here in Japan. I think it is a combination of many things.

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Being in a place where he is at the mercy of strangers has given him the opportunity to experience being carefree. There is so much out of his control that he can’t fuss about it. The relatively small experience he has had so far is that everything will work out. We are constantly in the situation of Joseph and Mary, looking for a place to be. Each and every time, the Japanese have scrunched together and with wide smiles and energetic waving, created space for us. Then they have worked hard to piece together a conversation quilt of English-Japanese to find out where we are from, why we are here, if we are visitor. When they find out we are living here, they say, “Sugoii!! {Wonderful} They offer us their treats and their warm company.

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Adventure is another reason. It awaits us each day. Riding the train, the tram or walking down the street is a navigational challenge. The Japanese use three kinds of script-hiragana, katakana, and Chinese kanji. So we cannot read anything. Some things are written in English, but this is usually nonsensical business names and advertisements. It can feel disorientating. Add to it the incomprehensible side conversations and the world is pretty exciting when we walk to the 7-11 to get more cash. We heard a dog bark and laughed that even he knows Japanese. When we step in the elevator, the kind lady says something rapidly. Just yesterday, Rich exclaimed, “shut! she said the word shut!!” His eyes were sparkly and wide. He was so proud to have recognized the word shut in Japanese.

on the train to Iwakuni

The bar of success is very low. We feel accomplished and enjoy just surviving. Early Saturday morning we headed to the town of Iwakuni. Typically, Rich pours over maps and has a detailed agenda. On the train, I realize he doesn’t have a map out. Where is the map? “I don’t have one.” He shrugs. He resumes looking out the window and around the train. We haven’t ever gone anywhere without a map. Hmmm. We get out and follow the crowd to the gate. Nothing is familiar. I am starting to tense up. But not Rich. He is like a puppy at first snow. He walks up to the gate where the ticket taker sits. Rich gestures/asks the man. By the look on his face he has no idea what Rich is saying. Rich is learning that less is more when it comes to these situations. It is a skill to pare your idea down to the absolute most necessary words. It goes like this-“how get to bridge?” The man points us out the door. So we go. There is a map displayed but none that can be put in your pocket. I am so surprised.   Rich is not stressed at all. He shrugs and comments on appreciating Hiroshima and its access. The day follows this pattern. Needing something, pointing, gesturing, and success.

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I think the unpredictability of our life gives Rich energy. When we got back from Iwakuni, I thought we would go get something to eat close by. But no, we ended up at a place advertising pizza. Well, it was not Flying Pie. It was more like a tortilla topped with ketchup and basil leaves. It had a patio so we didn’t mind our weird pizza. Afterward, as we stepped onto the sidewalk, a familiar, meaty, aroma overwhelmed us. Rich unabashedly put his nose in the air like a hunting dog and making big sniffing sounds and “Ohhh mannn! oh mannn!” all the while walking stridently to the origins of the smell. A young man is manning a hibachi made of bricks. Sticks of meat are on the grill like little bridges. Rich walks right up and to my horror points and says, “I want two.” With the intensity of a New Yorker ordering on the streets of the City. Such brandish behavior is not considered polite or rewarded. The griller ignores him, turning the meat and adding sauce, which makes the smoke thicker and yummier. Now the dog is on point, eyeing the meaty bridges and their caretaker with intense eyes. Luckily, a Japanese couple show me that you have to order on a little piece of paper. It is only now that I can get the dog to break point. The help continue to ignore us. The lady advocates and gets our order to its destination. The dog is on point again. Rich is intrigued by the hibachi and what the griller does. Finally the yakisoba come. Rich says, “Itedakimasu”! {This is a very polite way to begin eating.} The griller cracks a smile. Rich takes a bite. “Oishiii, oishii, oh man this is so good, this is so good!”. Now the griller is smiling at us and speaking Japanese to the couple. I am now explaining in my broken language that we are here to live. The couple comments on my Japanese and apologize for their English. “Sauce, (Rich is pointing), more sauce” I cringe. The griller is scrambling, getting out the wasabi. “Oshouyu, kudasai” pops out of my mouth. Immediately the griller grabs a squirt bottle and dabbles sauce on the meat, Rich’s hands rotating to mean more, more. The Japanese husband it laughing and so is the help. Before we know it we are offered edemame, beer, and a small dish of prosciutto (I hope that is what it is) cheese and cucumbers in a light sauce. Rich is asking the griller questions and complimenting him on his cooking. There is no tipping in Japan, but we have learned that taking their picture is a huge compliment so we do. He takes our picture with the couple that helps us and then we say good bye, see you next week!

helpful couple

6 thoughts on “A Time as Big as Our Feet

  1. Boy, you guys look tall! I heard some of this when we Skyped, but your commentary made it even more interesting. I love reading about your adventures, it makes me almost feel as if I were there. It occurs to me that by this time next year, you’ll be laughing at how inept you were to start with. I’m so glad you are enjoying your move. Write again soon….love, K.

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  2. What is it about men and grilled meat? It’s like a guaranteed ice breaker for them! I guess some things are universal! Sounds like you two have found a new “usual” joint to help alleviate the hole left by flying pie! 😉

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  3. I enjoyed your post immensely. As a Japanese-American (third-generation Sansei) traveling in Japan, I was embarrassed at not knowing more of the Japanese language, but everyone is so happy when you try to use just a few words. Sounds like you are adapting well!

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  4. I love it! You described Rich and his new approach so vividly. I could just hear him, and you, and all your new friends chattering and enjoying the moment together. Keep writing, Ang!

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  5. Oh Angie–these are spectacular!! the writing, the sharing of yourselves, the insight into daily life…..just every word of every post. It is both poignant and hilarious. I feel so lucky to watch from the sidelines!

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