Thursday, February 20, 2003

A rant...!

Last night was the last episode of the reality TV show The Bachelorette. I will admit that even though I had never watched the show before, I sat in front of the TV with my mom and my sister, waiting anxiously to see which guy the bachelorette would choose. Millions of other people probably did the same thing too. During commercial breaks, they advertised the appearance of the new couple on Good Morning America and the face off between Trista, Ryan, and the jilted lover Charlie. The final result of The Bachelorette even made Yahoo! news! Talk about the obession of a nation...

I am not writing this to put down those of you who liked to watch The Bachelorette and/or other similar reality shows, because I was glued to the TV last night, just like the rest of you (I knew she would pick Ryan over Charlie ;-)). It's just that, after a long (that's relative) absence from the US, I take a step back and wonder at how we can be so easily entertained...and by such simple things as "Which guy will she pick?"...and then having it make national news! And it's not just the US either! I now recall this reality TV show in Japan that is very similar to The Bachelorette. It's actually a mix between The Bachelorette and Road Rules and I remember that one evening, a whole bunch of girls in my dorm were glued to the TV, watching that show...and Tsveti and I ended up getting hooked. Thinking about it, both Japan and the US are guilty of airing simple-minded TV shows that would go to any lengths (Japanese shows are more silly and wacky while US shows are more risque) to get ratings. Again, I don't mean to sound condescending...besides, sometimes we need an escape, a way to just "veg"...junk food for the mind! It's just that sometimes, I just take a step back, shake my head, and wonder why a stranded seal (in Japan) and woman choosing between two guys can make entire nations obsessed and keep them entertained for hours on end... ;-)
Nimotsu wa kimashita! yokatta!... :-D

Okane wo motteiru....ii ne...

Watashi no shasshin no genzou suru koto ga seikou desu!

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

"I remember when we were driving, driving in your car,

Speed so fast I felt like I was drunk.

City lights lay out before us

And your arm felt nice wrapped 'round my shoulder

And I, had a feeling that I belonged

And I...had a feeling I could be someone, be someone..."

-Tracy Chapman

I am waiting to hear from Don about what happened on Tuesday night (Japan time) and I think there's an email waiting for me, so I want to write this before I find out, while I can still look back on that night with happiness...

On the evening of the 13th, I got a call from Don with the wonderful news: we had a date with Ayumu and Tanaka on Valentine's Day! We had been hoping we would get to go on a date with them on Valentine's Day, but we hadn't had any defenite invitation from them. I had bought some chocolates and a card for Tanaka just in case. I figured that if the date didn't happen, I would chill in my dorm and eat them myself. Anywayz, on the 14th, they had wanted me to work a little later than usual at Berlitz, so I was very rushed in getting ready to meet them at 8 o'clock. Don and I met the guys in front of Yodobashi Camera, the same place we met them on the first date. Tanaka was wearing a wool jacket and a really nice orange, brown, and beige-striped scarf. I noticed later on that he was also wearing really cool-looking red sneakers. Again, the conversation was at first awkward...we didn't know what to say to each other. But as the night wore on, we had more and more to say, and while the language barrier made the conversation stilted, having my electronic dictionary helped. First, we went to Bamiyan, a Chinese restaurant chain in Japan. There, Don and I gave our respective dates the chocolates we had bought for them for Valentine's Day (in Japan, the girls give gifts to the guys on Valentine's Day--the guys return the favor on White Day, which is on March 14th). Tanaka thanked me and took my card and gift, which was wrapped in bright red paper, and put it in his jacket pocket. He said, "If this had been England or the United States, you would have unwrapped the gift right then and there, right?". And he's right: In Japan, when one gives a present to someone else, the receiver does not open the gift in front of the giver but rather waits to open it later when he or she is by himself. He found the western practice of opening the gift in front of the giver rather strange yet interesting....all those cultural custom differences can be so interesting...

Then, we went to a European-style coffee house that Don and Ayumu had gone to before. Don really liked it so she wanted all of us to go there. And sure enough, it was a really, really nice place. They served coffee and tea from all over the world and the decor was very European (German perhaps?) with a lot of dark wood. The coffee was prepared on these round flasks and heated on what looked like bunsen burners....it was so cool! I ordered Mexican coffee called a Javanesa and Tanaka ordered, of course, English tea. We talked about many things while we were there....Tanaka asked everyone about their family history. He said that his mother's side of the family were samurais and that his father's side of the family were farmers. Of course! Tanaka means "in the field". Ayumu said that his father is an events coordinator, but because his parents are divorced, he hasn't seen him recently, which made me feel sad for him. He said, "I have no idea what kind of people my ancestors were, they could have been samurai for all I know" and shrugged his shoulders. After the coffeehouse, we drove around for a while because we were looking for a park or a place to park the car. It was so nice riding in the car again, getting to see parts of Hachioji that we never get to see usually, the nicer parts of Hachioji where there is more open space...

We finally found a nice park that was on top of a small hill. From the park, there was a view of all of Hachioji. I think I could even see Soka's main tower all the way to the north (I think it was the north, from what Tanaka said). It was very cold outside but we did not care. However, we eventually wanted a warmer place so we drove back to the Saizeriya that we went to the last time and spent the rest of the evening there. Alas, all too soon, it was time to go. Both Don and I were sadder than before to see it end. I would really love to see Tanaka again....but is that too much to hope for? The next day, he actually emailed me to thank me for the chocolates, and I wrote him back the day after that, but I haven't heard from him since. Oh God, I sound like such a schoolgirl! Well, I guess I am still young, and I will have the rest of my life to have my feet on the ground so I guess I can dream. Right before I left, I sent him my regular email address in hopes that he would write to me, but I don't know if that will happen. Actually, I have no idea what's going to happen...it also depends on what happened on Tuesday, I'm afraid. If it ends badly, again, I will at least have the wonderful memories from the two times we met...

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Greetings from 'the other side'...

The last two days were quite long...but as a result, I am now home, in Maryland! I will be here for two weeks and then it's back to the big J...where I think I left a piece of my heart :-D But anywayz, it all started Monday morning when Tsveti accompanied me to the Keio bus station to catch the 'Friendly' Airport Limousine....it was so nice of her, she didn't even have to come with me....I don't know what I would have lugged my luggage without her help. Anyways, as I looked out of the bus window, watching all that was Japanese pass by, I somehow felt sad...I had longed so much to go home and now that it was happening, I didn't want to go. I kept thinking about Tanaka, and not knowing if anything is going to happen when I get back. We got to Narita, I managed to find the ticket counter, but not before being made to take the bottle of sushi vinegar that I bought for my mother out of my duffel bag and having to put it into my bookbag. I of course, proceeded to the gate and sat there for a while, having gotten there pretty early. Since I was flying on American Airlines, there were, of course, a lot of Americans there....it felt so wierd hearing people speak American English...I mean, I hear it often at work, but actually hearing it in public was kind of a shock, especially after being used to hearing nothing but Japanese everywhere I go. Finally, I got on the plane and left Japan. I still remember looking out of the window (it's always a window seat for me!) and seeing the Japanese coast sliding away from view...

I actually managed to fall asleep for short periods of time during the Tokyo to Dallas flight. I got to sit next to this Japanese man, with whom I never said anything to, except for 'sumimasen' when I had to go to the bathroom. But that's ok because I'm not the kind of person that likes to strike up conversations with random people on a plane. Anywayz, what was on my mind was what was going to happen once I got to Dallas. My father had warned me the night before that the weather conditions in the northeast were pretty bad to due to snow and that the Washington-Reagan Airport had been closed on Sunday and most likely would be closed on Monday so there was a high possibility that my flight would be cancelled and I would have to stay in Dallas. We had agreed that if that happened, I could stay in a hotel or stay with my great-uncle Samuel. Well, we arrived in Dallas, and as I was leaving the plane, I remember the 'hip' (or at least thinking themselves that) Japanese looking at the rows of seats that had been littered with pillows and paper and exclaiming kitanei! (dirty!).

Well, sure enough, my flight got cancelled. I had no idea what to do, so I asked around and was directed to the AA ticket counter. I was put on standby for a 3pm flight and was asked to take my bags to a baggage security checkpoint to get them checked back in. I was asked whether I had any film in my luggage, and sure enough, I had my camera in my duffel bag. And usually I always take it with me on the plane. They strongly advised me to take the film out of the camera because of the x-rays used to check the bags. Then, of course, I had to go through security, where I was made to take off both my winter jacket and my jean jacket and put them on the conveyor. One security agent was grilling a Japanese man who had a briefcase. He kept asking the Japanese man if he had a computer in his briefcase, and the Japanese kept answering no. The agent obviously didn't believe him so he made him open the briefcase. 'You told me you don't have a computer in there' he growled. So the Japanese man opened the briefcase and sure enough, there was no computer. It made me feel ashamed that my country would treat foreigners that way, especially after the kind way I have been treated by the Japanese. Anyways, it was around 10am or so and I was stuck in the airport until around 3, so I called my parents, my great-uncle, and Bill. My parents told me that besides being put on standby, I should book a flight for the next day. My great-uncle told me to call him so he could pick me up as soon as I found out what was going on. Needless to say, by the time I called Bill, I was really stressed and had no idea what to do, as something like this had never happened to me before. 'I just want to get home', I told him tearfully. I finally went up to the person in the counter by one of the gates and she told me that the flight I was put on standby for was already cancelled, so I went back down to the ticket counter, where by this time, many people were in the same situation as me, so I had to wait in line for about an hour. When it finally came to my turn, the man in the counter asked me, "Where are you coming from?" and when I told him I was coming from Japan, he asked, "How old are you?" and when I told him, he said, "You're a lot older than you look", but it seemed like his tone was very condescending. However, looking back, this conversation was my 'salvation'. Anyways, after the man fiddled around the computer for what seemed like a long time, he booked me for a flight for the next day at 7pm and at the same time, he put me on standby for a 1:30 flight for Washington Dulles...the only one that day that had not been cancelled! As for my luggage, it had already been tagged to go to Washington National, which was closed, so I was going to have to leave them behind if I made the 1:30 flight. So anxiously, I went to the gate and waited for the plane to be boarded. I had no idea if I was going to make the flight, so I couldn't really call anyone with defenite plans. There were 60 people on standby...they finally began to call the names of people on standby to board the plane...and they called my name! I was happy and at the same time anxious because I had to leave my luggage behind. When I got on the plane, I figured that I could make phone calls on one of those phones they have in front of your seat and you pay with a credit card. Well, the phones were there but of course, there was a notice reading that they have been deactivated since March 2002! Fortunately, though, the man sitting next to me let me use his cell phone and people had not been asked to turn off their cell phones yet, so I was able to call my parents and let them know I was on my way. As we were leaving Dallas, the pilot announced that it was the only American Airlines flight that day that was flying into the northeast, let alone to Washingon! Also, out of the 60 people on standby, only 20 were called to board the plane! Talk about luck!! But I also believe now that I was picked to go on the flight because the man who put me on standby knew that I had flown from Japan.

Almost three hours later, we landed beautifully on the snow covered runway of the Washington Dulles airport. I thank that gutsy pilot who dared to fly into Washington with the amount of snow that had fallen. After arriving at the gate, we got on a bus that took us to the baggage claim/ticketing building. As I looked around me on the bus, it seemed like EVERYONE was yammering on their cell phones, getting in touch with people and letting them know they were among the few to make it to Washington. It was one of my first instances of post-Japan culture shock, because I had been so used to how quiet the Japanese conduct themselves in public. I peered outside and saw that the snow was at least one foot deep!

I went to the baggage claim area in case, somehow my luggage did make it on the flight, but of course, it didn't, so I went to the AA baggage claim office and filed a baggage search. They were very patient with me and assured me that they would do their best to get my luggage to me. As I was going outside, who did I see but someone I knew! Actually, I don't know her that well, I know her through Kurt. But the fact that I saw someone I knew was a pleasant surprise. She had been coming from LA and she had also been stuck in Dallas for several hours but thankfully made it to Dulles. When I was outside, I waited for a little bit and sure enough, I recognized my parent's green Toyota Camry. I really cannot describe the feeling of seeing my family after over 5 months, strangely enough, almost in the very spot where I had seen them last. I can't even describe the feeling of being back in the States...It's so strange...I feel so out of place, everything seems loud, the spaces seem so wide...but at the same time, I am happy to be home.

By the way, I want to let you all know that on my drive back to Salisbury, I had my first bag of American Doritos since leaving for Japan! I still can't believe how incredibly lucky I was to get home on Monday evening.

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