Saturday, June 21, 2008

M- I- C- K- E- Y..... Japan 1989

I can't help but remember Disneyland when I think of Urayasu-shi, Chiba-ken. During the summer evenings we sat out on the front stairs of our apartment building and watched the elaborate fire work display. Disneyland was only a ten minute drive from our apartment. I'm sure the children thought it was their own private playground.

"Can we go to Disneyland today?"

"Not today, we are busy" (roughly translated- "Not today, we have no money!")

There were times we did go and enjoy ourselves at Disneyland. Listening to the "It's a small world" song in Japanese. Walking through "Sleeping Beauty's" castle. It was fun seeing the park through the children's eyes.

Japan was more than just Disneyland. There were futons, tatami mats, sliding doors, sitting on the floor, and trains.

The trains took us wherever we wanted to go. When I took the train into Shibuya to teach English I traveled at peak traffic time. Human bodies crammed into each compartment. Amazingly everyone retained their personal space, even while they were being shoved up against each other. It was a Japanese art.

Longer trips required the bullet trains. A trip to Osaka was just as easily made as a trip across town. If we were going up to Lake Yamanaka-ko we would forfeit the train ride and just drive our car. If we decided we didn't want to travel far, we could go to any of the children's parks located near our home. Each park was given a nickname. The 'bicycle park' was a free park made to look like a mini road system. There were real traffic lights and stop signs scattered throughout the park. Bicycles of all sizes and shapes were available for anyone who wanted to 'drive' around the park. The 'ship park' was another free park which contained a large replica of a ship. The children enjoyed exploring every facet of the vessel. Hours were spent at the 'Big slide park,' where the children slid down a tall slide and ran through mazes.

Japan continued to politely house us. As always, she was on her best behavior showing us all the good she had to offer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Madam Butterfly- Japan 1989

I was Cio-Cio- san from "Madam Butterfly" for a forensics competition in Kuala Lumpur...back when I was a senior in High School. I won an award for my interpretive reading. I should have given Kayoko the award; she was my best friend. She was a Japanese and I 'stole' her accent for my reading. When I stood up on the ISKL stage reading my excerpt, I had no idea that Japan would one day become my least for 7 years.

With Sean tagging along behind me and Katrina safely tucked in my arms, I followed Daniel to Urayasu, Japan. The home of Tokyo Disneyland. The place of small apartments. The kind of small which entails you to stand up so someone can squeeze by you to get into the restroom. You can't allow yourself to have claustrophobia otherwise you will never be able to use the toilet. The walls look like they are creeping in on you. Oh, but the ofuros make up for the small toilets. The lovely hot baths in the deep tubs. The water is so hot it makes your skin blush.

Japan is the land of seasons. Every year I went with the women to the park to watch the cherry blossoms come in. It didn't matter that we went the year before and sat in the same spot with the same little obentos. This was tradition. Every year there would be the time for fireworks. This was summer. Sometimes it was enough to just have the children walking around in their cute little kimonos with sparklers. It didn't matter that we did this last year and the year before; this was tradition. Every festival had its location and its tradition. I fell comfortably into these expected seasons and events.

Japan embraced my family. She welcomed us dutifully like a waiter in a Ramen Shop, "
Irashaimasu." It didn't take us long to figure out we were there on her terms; afterall, she was Japan.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Unusual friendship- Scotland 1988

Daniel, Sean and I lived in Glasgow: the city which looks as though someone poured a bucket of Grey all over it. If an ounce of sunlight peeped through people walked a little bit faster and smiled a bit bigger.

During our stay we drove up to Forfar and Dundee. Actually we went to visit some friends we met in Nepal up in PitKennedy. Alisdair and Heather lived in the school house in PitKennedy. On our way up to see them we had to admit Scotland's raw beauty was intoxicating. There was nothing subtle or gentle about the landscape. The rugged hills, the old stone bridges, the flowers bursting up out of nowhere and the biting cold. Oh yes, the wind was not gentle in the least. It bit right through any coat or covering you might use as protection.

I took back from Scotland not only memories of the beauty but an unusual friendship. I was living in Rutherglen just outside of Glasgow. My days filled up with work and taking care of Sean; I also was pregnant. In between boat rides on the lake, bus rides through the city and walks in the park, I managed to became very ill. After a visit to the Rutherglen hospital, the doctors informed me I needed to be admitted otherwise I might lose my baby.

The first day I lay in the hospital bed thinking about my husband and son struggling all by themselves at home. Hormones or just general emotions got the better of me and sometimes I allowed a tear to slide down my cheek. On the second day, I determined to put away the silverware from my 'pity party' and stop feeling sorry for myself. I slipped out of bed and tottered out the door. Peeking into the room next to me, I discovered there was a pleasant looking woman resting serenely in bed.


She looked around to see who the 'hi' was coming from.

"Hi," I said again, a bit louder this time.

"Oh, hello! Come on in."

It didn't take a second invitation to get me in the room. I positioned myself at the end of her bed and we began to chat. I soon discovered she needed to be on complete bed rest for the duration of her pregnancy. (which would be another couple months) My week in bed suddenly didn't sound so awful. It became a daily routine, me toddling into her room and sitting at the end of her bed and chatting with her. I don't remember how we would start or finish our conversations. I don't even recall what we talked about. I do remember those visits as being the reason I was able to 'make it through' my stay at the hospital. I found a friend.

We exchanged addresses. In those days, it was regular post and not email. We wrote each other even as I traveled from country to country. The letters told of our children's progress. They filled us up with news of the progression of our lives. Months separated each of the letters, but when the time came to write them they picked up where the last letter left off.

Now 20 years later- in 2008, I sit with a letter which just arrived from Scotland. It is from my friend, Margaret. She thanks me for my daughter's lovely graduation announcement. She tells me about Miriam's pursuit of a medical degree; she continues to tell me of Matthew's desire to be a pilot. She weaves in the events of the past year with all the ups and downs. I don't want the letter to end.

I will write back to tell her of Sean's upcoming wedding. She will hear more about Katrina and her latest exploits. Cassandra's future plans will have to be included. Of course pictures need to be enclosed. Once the stamp is firmly in place, I'll send the letter to Scotland. I will look forward to many more years of words and pictures being exchanged. Who would have guessed a stay in a hospital in Rutherglen, Scotland could produce such an unusual friendship!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Guest Traveler Story: Ibiza

Guest Traveler: Scarlett*


I do not think of the island of Ibiza as a retreat for sun, sand, sea and the other as most British people do, but rather a place of pain, embarrassment and cactus needles. During a holiday there I stepped from a small wall outside a shop and felt a sharp pain in my right big toe. Nothing was visible but the pain intensified walking back to the hotel and further investigation in the middle of a sleepless night confirmed there was something decidedly amiss. Pressing the top of my toe, a lump appeared underneath and vice versa, convincing me something alien was lodging inside.

A taxi ride into town the following morning to a Spanish speaking doctor revealed a cactus needle was embedded completely inside the toe. An excruciating local injection, followed by a small operation removed the inch long needle which I still have as a souvenir. The doctor then demonstrated through body language that I needed to turn over and drop my trousers. He administered a further injection with the accuracy and force of Jockey Wilson going for double top. With tears stinging my eyes I leapt from the table and in my haste to restore my clothes and composure completely bust the zip in my jeans.

The only solution to limping through the town to the taxi rank without drawing attention to my embarrassing state of undress was to purchase a painting from a nearby street artist and carry it strategically placed over my exposed parts. To this day my toe still throbs when the weather is about to change and is a useful barometer to forecast rain. The throbbing always reminds me of that Spanish island I’m sure no one else remembers for the same reason.

*If you are interested in reading more of Scarlett's work please go to

Monday, June 2, 2008

A real love story- Nepal 1987

I returned to Nepal in 1987. I will steal an old journal entry of mine for this post-- because it
captures an interesting part of my stay in Nepal.

Daniel was in New Delhi while Sean and I were up in Nepal. My hands were full making sure a team of people were taken care of. After running around getting bus rides secured for Pokhara and various other destinations....the team arrived. Everything went like clockwork and before I knew it they were gone. The day after the team left, I decided I would just relax. With a book in hand, I trotted outside and told Sean to play in the grass. My head was buried in my book for quite some time, a quick glance up every now and then told me Sean was fine. I must have gotten lost in the story, because the next thing I knew I heard screaming from around the house. I leaped up and ran towards the yelling.

There stood one of the young girls from the children's home pulling Sean out of a hole- this wasn't just any hole- this was the cesspool- the place all the human refuse went into. Someone forgot to put the cover over the hole and Sean fell in. If the tiny girl didn't pull Sean out of the hole he would have drowned in that muck. I swooped him up in my arms. He was coughing. I couldn't be happier to hear him cough, because at least that meant he was alive! After a quick shower, I thought all was going to be fine. Unfortunately, a few days later he lay sick in bed. He was dying. (literally)

My sister helped me get him to the hospital and after several blood tests and stool samples, the doctors were shocked. They said he had every kind of dysentery a person could have. I enlightened them about his trip down into the cesspool. Nothing more needed to be said. They informed me that he was very ill and might not survive. When you hear those words you want your husband to be next to you- you just want him to say "It's gonna be okay"

I told my sister to be with Sean, and I rushed down to the Post Office and sent a telegram to India. "Sean dying. stop. Need your prayers. stop."

Daniel has told me later, that he received the telegram and started crying. He knew he wanted to put a little faith into action. He wanted to get up to Nepal to see me, but he had no money to pay for his ticket. His story is that he was kneeling at his bed praying with his hands lifted up in the air and his eye caught sight of his wedding ring. He stood up immediately and went to sell the ring to get the money to fly up to see me. Now, a second problem he faced was that he had never been to Nepal and he had no idea where I was. He spoke with someone who had been there and they tried to explain the way to him

"You take a taxi from the airport to Boudha, and then you tell them to keep driving past the Stupa, you'll see a huge red house and you keep going...then you'll see a white house....but that isn't the one go further, and finally you will see another white house and the house you want is behind that house."

Believe it or not, he found the right house! Love can make a man do impossible things!!! I had no idea he was coming. When I saw him standing in front of me, I just screamed and started blubbering. I scared the pants off the two Nepali men standing next to me. My arms flew around his neck and I squeezed him so hard. This was also a bit of a shock for the Nepali men, as women and men didn't show much public affection in those days.

Sean did eventually get better and twelve years later we bought a new ring to replace the one Daniel sold. It never bothered me that he didn't have a ring for all those years, because every time I looked at his ring less finger, it just reminded me of how much he loved Sean and me.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Guest Traveler Poem- Eternal Darkness (Trip to Rome)

Guest Traveler: Fyndorian (Robin Scorof)*

On my own in Rome
at sixteen. I was no slouch
having meandered most of Europe by the time
I reached the Eternal City. Almost closing time;
last tour of the day into the catacombs under Rome.

That dark path trailing off into nowhere
beyond the purple, velvet rope
and the sign, meant to keep one away
the lured me forward
when no one was looking.

Flashlight bravely illuminating
skull whose sockets no longer
saw light of any kind,
whose yellowed teeth
grimly smiled at my adventure.

Two forked paths later I was turned around
surrounded by bones and
death skittered beyond flashlight glow
now flickering. Dimming to pale golden twilight.
Then dying. Utterly.

Lost in the catacombs under Roman ruins.
Time, destiny weighing me down.
Darkness pressing in with bony fingers pointing out faults,
imagined hollow eyes condemning me
for trespassing into graven territory.

Someone will find me.
It must be past closing time.
I grimace in conjecture
with my slack jawed comrades in darkness,
for I am alone and no one will miss me.

Come morning, my empty voice will be heard.
Some echo of crashing bone on stone will reverberate.
How long will this night endure?
I imagine skeletal grimaces cackling about eternity,
how the passage of time creeps to a halt here
as I slide to the floor disturbing the
dust of centuries.

I wait.

*If you want to see more of Fyndorian's work please go to

Where do I begin?

(written on March 28th 2018) For someone with so many words...words that just tumble out even when they are not wanted...words that jump h...