I finished Adriene’s 30 day True series this morning. It was good, just the right speed for where I am in the recovery process, and the final sun salutation brought with it a sense of closure. As I breathed deeply into my rapidly recovering lungs, I glanced out the window at the men pouring concrete into the foundation of the new house going up next door and I gave thanks that I wasn’t them. My little space heater barely makes a dent in the frigid air so my breath fogged the window as my toes turned blue, but I gave thanks all the same. One does not wear socks when one does downward dog. Yoga must be approached with respect and I give it with gratitude and humility.
Last week I lost my Pasmo train pass, the day after I’d charged it with 5000yen. An hour later I got a call from a station employee saying they’d found it and I could come pick it up. Ah, Japan. I gave thanks.
On Monday I had a wicked scare at the hospital but the doctors went into overdrive and fixed the problem. Their bedside manners might leave something to be desired, but they know their stuff when it comes to medicine. I gave thanks, more than once.
Yesterday at the supermarket, an old lady was having a hard time with her shopping cart so I helped her with it. Not only did she not give thanks, she didn’t even look at me, just walked away with a “harumph”. Meh. Her problem, not mine, but I watched my brownie points swarm with confusion, not knowing quite what to do with themselves.
Tomorrow I board a plane for a long overdue vacation in Hawaii where I will be able to salute the sun properly, and she will cook some of the stiffness out of my joints and muscles. Then I will stuff myself with mangoes and listen to the sound of the surf and congratulate myself for surviving last year, all the while giving thanks.
I will continue to give thanks, for the sun in the sky and the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins and being able to walk and talk and see and sleep and eat and think and feel and love. Thanks.
When I was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, each Christmas we went downtown to Buhl Planetarium to see the miniature railroad exhibition. It was pretty great. The exhibit included several trains running along tracks and making lovely clickety-clack sounds, houses, cars, people–everything on a teeny scale. It was always a delight.
So imagine my surprise when I arrived at the hospital in early December for one of my daily zaps and discovered a whole Christmas village set up on a table in the lobby. It only had one train, but it was merrily clickety-clacking along an oval track.
From a distance, it was absolutely charming but upon looking closer, I discovered an odd assortment of elements. There were a couple of Hallmark looking houses, a Lincoln Log church, a fort made of blocks with a chimpanzee on its roof, a train station (nowhere near the train) with a bride and broom in front of it, a chicken coop, a polar bear, some pandas and, of course, Santa and a moose having a cookout. I could smell the hot dogs and ‘smores.
All I could think was, “Why not?”
I grew up with certain cultural prejudices, certain beliefs that things were a certain way and set in stone. But even now I am discovering how wrong I was about some things. For example, the Virgin Mary, not her son, was herself the Immaculate Conception with her immaculacy having been brought about at her conception by virtue of the birth of her son. (Huh?) Somehow that made it possible for her to get pregnant without exposing herself to a) a doorknob, b) a toilet seat, or c) sperm. I’m no scientist but I have a hard time swallowing that. I contend that either Mary was a liar or doorknob and toilet seat sanitation left a lot to be desired in those days. At any rate, despite what my high school sex ed instructor said, that was entirely possible, a good thing, and much to be admired. (Uh…all right. If you say so.)
But lets move on.
Somehow, this son of hers came about and grew up to be a carpenter and really swell guy. When he wasn’t building oxcarts or cobbling tables or creating sperm-infested doorknobs, he spent his time telling people to be nice to each other, which so enraged the Romans that they nailed him to a cross. (Come on now.)
But wait. It gets better.
Even swell guys die, and he did, but three days later he got better. He arose from his pallet, single-handedly and in true Superman style moved a five ton stone blocking the entrance to his tomb, popped into an impromptu supper with a few of his mates, then sailed off to heaven a la ET, and now we commemorate that equally hard to swallow tale by worshiping a bunny wearing a bow tie and carrying a basket full of plastic grass, chocolate eggs and jelly beans. (Say what???)
So what have we learned? Miniature train exhibitions are often not what they seem, love and marriage might go together like a horse and carriage but sex and pregnancy are another story, and people do not like being told to be nice to each other. Oh, and as long as sugar and plastic are involved, people will swallow just about anything.
If you have issues with any of that, I offer an alternative. I give you the Unimoose.
The Unimoose is wise. He is strong. He has courage and a wicked sense of humor. He can make you smile and stop taking yourself so seriously. He can help you take a step back and see that so many things in your life are good, so many things in you are good. He can see into the future and assure you that this, too, will pass.
Since 2017 has sucked worse than wet socks on a cold day and stale potato chips in rancid onion dip, the Unimoose has donned his hat and scarf and straddled his glimmering pink unicorn to ride bravely into the future and bring you hope. Such a teeny word, just four little letters, but for me, at least, it makes all the difference.
Most of what you’ve heard about Japanese manners is true. There are prescribed behaviors for nearly every situation. This makes social interaction glitchless since everyone usually knows exactly what is expected of them.
There are exceptions to accepted behavior, of course, although most rules follow the concepts of honne/inside and tatemae/outside. In a nutshell, it’s OK to fart in public but you wouldn’t do that at the dinner table. One of the most extreme examples I ever saw was a Japanese man standing under a “No Smoking” sign at an airport. He was smoking, and when he was done, he dropped the butt on the carpet and ground it out with his shoe. He probably doesn’t do that at home.
Elevator etiquette is simple and clear. Whoever gets in first holds the “Door Open” button until everyone else gets in. When we arrive, that same person holds the button again until everyone gets off. I’m very careful about this, especially at the hospital, not just because it is expected, but also because many of the others in the elevator are worse off than me, with canes, walkers or wheelchairs. No one should be penalized for being broken or sick, and the good little girl inside me feels good about being good. Plus, nobody can have too many brownie points.
The other day, however, a woman held the “Door Open” button while I got on, but when we got to the dungeon, she dashed off first, leaving me to fend for myself. I just shrugged, figuring she was a) in a hurry, b) oblivious, c) hates foreigners or d) a bitch.
I followed her to the computer where we scan our bar codes and of course her name went up above mine on the monitor. Two minutes later, the tech called me.
I don’t know why that happened. I’m quite sure it isn’t because I am a Badass Unicorn Juju-powered Hottie, although that certainly doesn’t hurt. Most likely, the machine was already set up for zapping torsos and she was there for some other body part. Whatever the reason, I thanked the Goddess and was careful not to look at her as I was leaving, although the bad little girl inside me was throwing mud pies and sticking out her tongue.
For reasons I don’t want to go into now, I found myself at the Self Defense Forces Central Hospital today. It was surreal.
Sitting in the window of the second floor cafeteria over a bowl of curry rice, I watched men and women wearing camouflage uniforms and army boots come and go. Looking at their faces, I felt a fundamental human connection: these people who go on peace keeping missions all around the world also get sick, just like me or anyone else. It was a humbling realization.
Then I went into the hospital shop and found this:
Who but the Japanese would dress a Kewpie doll in combat fatigues and send him crawling into battle on a cell phone strap?
And who but me would bring him home and pose him with a squirrel and a couple of cacti?
It seems the American Club is looking for an instructor to teach a Fighting Exercise class and asked Sensei to do it, but he can’t speak English.
(Really. Seriously. He can put a couple of words together, but most of what he says doesn’t make any sense. Of course, he doesn’t make much sense in Japanese either, but that’s another story.)
At this point, I could probably teach it, but I’m not licensed.
So Sensei asked Hama-chan to do it. He trained her and she’s licensed. Plus she used to live in Hong Kong so speaks a little English, but she doesn’t feel confident about teaching in English. That kind of class requires very specific vocabulary.
So during her class today, I was translating what she said in my head, and realized that I have never done any sort of exercise class in English and don’t know the names for some of the moves. I know some aerobics words because I used to have a couple of Jane Fonda exercise tapes, but there wasn’t much punching and kicking in those.
This situation reminds of me of when I was incarcerated in the hospital for three months for knee surgery. I learned all sorts of not-very-useful words, like IV drip, wheelchair and crutches. It’s fun to surprise people by knowing those words on the rare occasion they come up, but otherwise I don’t use them much.
This is not to say that my Japanese is fluent because it isn’t. My Japanese is very situation-specific. I know body parts, food and cooking words, exercise words, hospital words, work-related words. I can handle daily life pretty well, but drop me into an unfamiliar situation and I quickly get lost. When that happens, I either stare into space pretending to be deep in thought or put on a simpering smile and study my toes. Unfortunately, the former seems to have the effect of making me look snooty and the latter makes me look rather stoopid.