9 December, 1999
Jen and I are starting to adapt to our new life in Japan. The climate is quite pleasant; we are lucky to have escaped the harsh Minneapolis winter to enjoy Okinawa's balmy weather. My job is going well -- the work is challenging and I like my co-workers. Jen is starting to figure out how to navigate through the very bureaucratic military medical system, which with a baby on the way is really a top priority. And we have our very own Japanese style apartment, filled to the gills with "Government Furniture" provided by the US military to help keep moving costs down. It was very nice not to have to deal with furniture, but I have to say that it is a bit queer to visit friends and see their houses and apartments appointed with the same furniture as ours.
Along with an apartment, we have acquired the full Japanese lifestyle. We read pornographic comic books. We watch Sumo. We eat with sticks. And we got slippers just for the toilet room (in Japanese, literally the "Honorable hand washing place", but in our case it should be the "Tiny tinkle place" as the room is so small it is difficult to turn around in). They have smart leather patches across the top emblazoned with "Men's Collection: Good Feeling and Stately". Very classy. These slippers also feature nubs specially designed to massage the soles of your feet according to the fundamental principals of reflexology (or perhaps they are intended to titillate the podiatric erogenous zones -- I wouldn't know: despite getting a size Large, the slippers are far too small for me and the nubs poke me in ways that evoke nothing more than a good old fashioned Turkish foot beating). Our apartment is tiny too -- picture two refrigerator boxes with an air conditioner, and you'll be on the right track. Though small, it does feature a tatami room, with golden straw mats and sliding rice paper doors, a beautiful wooden ceiling (taken, no doubt, from the last remnants of the ancient rainforests of Borneo). A room for contemplation, for thinking serene thoughts, for practicing Zen meditation. Yes, this is the room where we store all of our empty shipping boxes and suitcases, and the stacked the government furniture that doesn't really fit in our apartment, along with the piles of unsorted documents and papers brought from America. This will also be the room for the baby, at least until he is old enough to crawl around and poke his tiny fists through the delicate paper doors.
Our apartment also has a state-of-the-art video intercom system that lets us see, hear, and (perhaps) even smell those awaiting an audience with us. Since the device is so baffling (there are no fewer than 30 buttons and 6 switches on the console, all labeled in Japanese), on our first day in the apartment, I tried to buzz Jen up with the big red button, and instead set off the building's fire alarm and summoned the security forces. Well, I assure you that despite my acute embarrassment I found the situation far more amusing then they did. Or than Jen did.
Because state-of-the-art is important here, we are saving our yen for a high-tech electronic toilet seat. We have cautiously examined the display models in the local Hyper-Mart, which feature an electronically warmed seat as well as several devices that resemble nothing more than a combination electronic toothbrush and Water Pic that slide out from under the seat at the press of a button to do who-knows-what. In truth, I think I do know what, and that may be why I find the new high-tech future just a little terrifying.
On the less-than-state-of-the-art front, we are also proud owners a nice little Japanese car. It is a small red late 80's model Toyota Corolla Windy (probably so-called because of its frequent backfires). It is one of the few cars on the island with an intact body. But what it lacks in rust, it also lacks in performance -- it sputters and stalls when cold, and sputters and threatens to stall when warm. Our driveway is a steep uphill ramp, and it often requires two or three attempts just to make it up and out. Ours is, in this respect, a typical "Okinawa car". The rest of Japan uses the American bases here as dumping grounds for their old, decrepit, and otherwise unsaleable vehicles. The local Japanese, for their part, drive snappy but tiny cars that can best be described as "cute", with names like "Lettuce", "We've", "March", and "Minica" (get it? "Mini car" pronounced with a strong Japanese or Boston accent: "Pahk the Minica in Hahvahd Yahd"). About six of these cars could fit in our small apartment, if only there was a way to get them up the elevator.
I am in fact considered a Professional Driver in Japan, and I've got a special license to prove it. Yes, it is true -- I took the military driving course, a half-hour lecture that also covered poisonous snakes and the hazards of scuba diving, but focused mostly on how to correctly fill out the Professional Driver License paperwork. I found this course only slightly less taxing than the US requirements for obtaining a drivers license, which do actually include the formality of briefly sitting behind a steering wheel. Jen is also a Professional Driver despite never having driven in Japan. There are certainly some benefits of being from a country with a strong army.
We have started experimenting with the strange overly packaged foods that can be found at the 100 Yen Shop (where, as you may suppose, everything is 100 yen, almost exactly $1.00). Jen brought home a packet of "Fruits Carrot Gummy" and something in a mysterious opaque package called which means... well, frankly, your guess is as good as mine. Judging from the final character, it might well be pretzels for, as the first character would suggest, pregnant women. I can already see some real improvement in my Japanese, despite hardly studying all!
Working on an Air Force base is always interesting. Today, for example, we pretended that we were under attack by terrorists armed with mortars. We were barraged with emails reporting the current threat status and measures we were required to take. Cars could not be parked within 75 feet of certain buildings (unless they bore signs that read "SIMULATED TOWED"). We had to show our IDs to enter the gym where I played racquetball and the base grocery store (that, by the way, stocks a half-dozen kinds of black-eyed peas, none without bacon, and where all the "milk" expires well into the next millenium). Commanders had to remove their license plates, and building signs were to be covered by dark sheets. All that was missing was the simulated whine of incoming shells followed by cries of "Medic!"
Another nice feature of the military is that security guards salute me as I enter the base, in case I might be an officer. In fact, technically speaking, I am an officer, the equivalent of Captain, so I am told. I am still working up my courage to bark "SERGEANT, DO YOU CALL THESE MAGGOTS MEN!? GET YOUR WRETCHES TO GIVE ME 50 PUSHUPS, THEN HAVE THEM REPORT TO MY QUARTERS FOR DECK SWABBING AND CAR WASHING DUTIES AT 0600 HOURS! ON THE DOUBLE!" Ah, that's the life. And we do in fact have decks that are in need of a good swabbing. Well, that's why we are having a child. After all, someone has to do the work around here.
We are still waiting for the bulk of our stuff, including our bicycles, to arrive. If you want to add to the pile of boxes we are expecting any day now, our mailing address is:
PSC#80 Box 13105
That's a US address, so your letters only need a 33¢ stamp. However, if you are sending anything that is of any importance, consider sending it Priority Mail. That takes about 1/10th the time of regular mail, which is shipped "Space Available".
We can also be reached by phone at 011 (81) 98-939-3098. And, of course, email will always work.
With that, we bid you a fond farewell.
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