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 year 2

juichigatsu 30 (nov)
It never ceases to amaze me how an environment I once perceived as exotic and mysterious has slowly transformed into the familiar and comfortable trappings of an everyday existence.

Train rides have become routine. I pass the time looking out the window at the passing landscape when possible, unless it's a long trip and I have a book along. In addition to my day job, I'm teaching online a couple of nights a week for another university, so I've been keeping quite busy. I haven't socialized much with other ex-pats this semester, preferring to spend my precious time alone or with a few (English speaking) Japanese friends. My Japanese is progressing enough that I can occasionally carry on a short conversation. I've been able to get myself to the Japanese lessons more for social reasons, so when my motivation lags, my need for human connection kicks in. The jazz club I frequent, where I sometimes sing the blues, feeds my hunger for live music, and is another source of company. Last week, we had an amusing (to me) discussion after the jam session about the meaning of these words from an old blues song:
          One day we got ham and bacon
     Next day ain't nothin' shakin'
     Ain't nobody's business if(/what) I do

Try to explain that to someone in another country and culture!

Attempting to avoid buying too many appliances for my stay here, I was using a 'coin laundry' a block away once a week. Since it was so close and the place so tiny, I'd go back to my apartment or walk around rather than stay and wait. About a month ago, I went back at the appointed time to pick up my clothes from the dryer, and found that all my underwear was gone! There's not much crime in Japan, but obviously some perverts abound - I've been told it's not an isolated occurrence. So I bought a washer, which was installed outside on the 'veranda', and I hang up clothes on a line, as is common in most places in the world. I do love that fresh smell when you bring them in.

The most beautiful tree on campus is outside my classroom window, a delicate, red Japanese maple, and it's taken a month to mature, radiant in the sunshine. Another tree out my window spreads its arms wide in the courtyard where the afternoon sun shines through its cat's-eye shaped, yellow leaves like Christmas lights. My beginning level students have observably improved to the point where I can give a pair of learners a question or two and they are able to chat away, adding information and asking more questions to extend the conversation, albeit in familiar topics using limited vocabulary. I'm jealous… I'd like to reach that very basic but useful skill level in their language. Nonetheless I'm buoyed by the fact that the class has done them some good, my efforts here are not wasted.

A few highlights from my November doings: Yesterday I took a long walk in an enormous park in the nearby town of Tachikawa, where there's a graceful Bonzai garden and lots of yellow ginko trees. Although late in the season now, the soft gold leaves have accumulated on the ground like a carpet in places, one of the few spots where they are not immediately raked away due to the compulsive cleaning habits of the Japanese. One day in the city with friends, I joined a group jumping rope in Yoyogi park, and saw the sea of lights at night from the top of Sunshine City tower in Ikebukuro. Another Japanese teacher friend took me to meet her pottery teacher last spring where I threw a few small pots in his little studio. This fall, I returned and glazed my pots, up on his roof garden in the open air, getting them ready for firing in his big kiln. My friend brought the finished pieces to class last Friday night - a few more mementos of Japan. And the most unusual: in a festival celebrating the anniversary of my city, I donned a blue and white kimono and, with other foreigners who attend the language and other classes, did a traditional dance in the parade.

I had an enlightening dream last spring... I'm often counting in my head, how many weeks until I finish with work, leave a place, leave Colorado again, or go on to the next thing. I dreamt that I was walking in a city, it looked like Prague, thinking about how much longer I would be there. I turned a corner and was suddenly on the street of my childhood home. It was bright sunlight. As I neared my house, my mother, dead for many years now, came out of the house and said to me, 'Stop counting. Just enjoy where you are.' I've been trying to remember that and live by it. Time certainly isn't going any slower, but I just try not to pay as much attention.


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