In the Thick of It


Hi guys, it’s been awhile.  Things here have been kind up and down, with good weeks and rougher ones, so its been hard to write a blog entry with the emotional back and forth.  Let’s see where we left off.

Libby’s unfortunately been suffering from hay fever for the past couple of months.  The season is fairly bad here in Japan, and it’s gotten worse in recent times.  The trees that are most responsible for the pollen used to be cut and used for their wood, but in modern times the usage of that wood has decreased sharply, leaving them unchecked to grow in large numbers.  It’s enough of a problem that the government has a health budget specifically created to combat the effects of this particular pollen, noting that it has a real impact on both the health and productivity at a national level.

As for Libby, we’ve done everything.  Medicines, masks, indoor air filter, washing sheets and clothes aggressively, etc.  But still, Libby’s had it rough, and I feel super bad.

Fortunately, we’re moving past that season.  Throughout June, the summer rains will start picking up more, and that should begin to flush the pollen out of the air.  Furthermore, as the temperature climbs, the trees will stop producing altogether.  We’re still undecided if trading pollen for heat, rain, and humidity is much better, lol.


I’m looking forward to the upcoming summer, actually.  Yeah, it’s gonna be super super hot.  But the evenings are cool, and it’s the season for the best of Japanese festivals: summer night festivals!  Every town and region has multiple, varied celebrations, ranging from firefly watching, fireworks, parades, paper lanterns, and of course streeeeet fooood!  Honestly, it’s the best time of the year to go out into the country side and really experience rural Japan, because these festivals bring out the best of tight knit communities with long traditions.  In many ways, as Libby likes to frequently say, “it feels more like Asia.”  Cities like Tokyo often feel just too clean, organized, and “modern” to really feel have that authentic charm when you think of visiting Southeast Asia.

Oh, I suppose I should mention — I went to the hospital recently.  At first I was afraid that I had a hernia, which the doctor at the clinic suggested as a real possibility, so I went to a hospital as quickly as possible to prevent complications.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a typical lipoma — a ball of fat that forms under the skin in virtually everyone.  Most lipomas don’t cause any problems, but mine was located just right to be responsible for  a lot of stomache irritation, so in the end I requested it removed by surgery.

I can’t really explain how much of an eye opener the experience was.  Although everything in Japan comes with its due amount of bureaucracy, my visit to the clinic and hospital were significantly faster and more responsive than my visits to respective clinics / hospitals in the US.  I felt that the doctor did well enough to listen, examine, consider, and diagnosis, but just remarkably efficiently.  I understand, obviously, that for any country, individual hospitals, and hell, individual doctors can significantly vary for no particular reason, and I may honestly been lucky, but I couldn’t help but notice how the process was organized: staff had clearly separated responsibilities, but interacted quickly and freely with each other.  Nurses coordinated brilliantly with the doctors so that from entering the room to leaving the doctor could focus intently on me and anything else was done in parallel by another pair of hands.   Staff handled and organized all my paperwork such that between getting my blood work done, scheduling a surgery, and even payment, there was hardly a moment of delay.

But most profound, above all, was the cost.  Prognosis, CT scan, surgery, pain killers, and post op clocked in barely around $200 total, and mind you my insurance is simply a 70% discount.  If I had no insurance, I could still have owed less than $700.  My CT scan alone in the US (using the exact same equipment, requirement the exact same amount of preparation), costs $3000 before insurance.   I realize that this procedure was fairly standard and thus isn’t a “fair comparison” of quality of care, but the point is this: standard procedure surgeries *should* be cheap and fast.  There’s no excuse why people in the States frequently avoid doctors over totally treatable issues because of a fear of inexplicable health costs.

It got me thinking.  When I return to the states, I think I want to take a look at the health care industry again.  I want to see what kind of work there is that I could do to help this cost issue, to help break up and decompose these giant hospitals so that simpler procedures can be done at lower costs.

Can I just quickly recommend the show Kodoku Gurume to everyone who likes food?  Like, I love this show for so many reasons, but mostly because it’s so charmingly simple:  Japanese business man goes out for work, gets hungry, stops at a tiny shop, and then proceeds to enjoy eating in a way that reminds of a child first tasting candy.  That’s it, nothing gets in the way of this man’s sheer love of eating and the appreciate he has for the tiny shops that feed him.

Anyways, I’m trying to remain optimistic and moving forward.  Even though there’s been a few hiccups lately, and we’ve been adjusting to the reality of living here (it’s not that simple), I’m staying focused on what I came here for.  We’re planning a trip to a super nice onsen hotel, too, with one of the famous Japanese 懐石 dinners, too, to blow some steam (ha!), and to have some fun.  We’ll have some photos from that soon.

Alright, I’ll leave the rest to Libby.


Hi All. It’s been a while. What have you been up to? Getting chubby? Me too.

As of now we are pretty much settled in the daily grind of work or just prepping for work on the weekdays and some play on the weekends. We went to Disney Sea for Zach’s birthday, which was not bad, although I like Tokyo Disney more. We rode Indiana Jones, the Aladdin carousel, some sort of storybook water Sinbad ride (not sure if this is official Disney) and Journey to the Center of the Earth, which freaked me out. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was a great ride, where you feel like you’re under water and you get a flashlight to “explore” the dark scenery. For dinner, we had some tacos, which had the right spices, but for some reason just did not taste like tacos.

We live near a pretty cool train museum, where you can sit on these very old public transit trains and shinkansens from way back. They had a kind of a haunted feel to them, like people were still in them, being sleepy on their ride to work or home. We also got lost in a “Totoro forest”, which seemed more like a marketing term. There were no totoros but we did find a muddy rice paddy, tea farms, random cemeteries, and people laughing and having a bbq (jealousss).We also went to a Thai food festival with really great food, a cat cafe for 30 minutes, a hipster coffee festival, and a Sailor Moon exhibit (ZOMG yay!).

In spite of all the fun things we’ve done, in a lot of ways this month has not been too great. One is that my grandma passed away. It was pretty surreal to find out, I was just trying to get off work. My sister and brother-in-law were trying to call me while on the train, which shouldn’t happen since we are on opposite sleeping times, so I had a feeling something was up. It was kind of rainy at my starting station and I didn’t have an umbrella so Zach came by with one to get me. I mention the phone calls to him and he says that my grandma had passed. I just couldn’t believe how this was all happening: that I’m in some other country where I can barely speak the language, coming back from my non-American job, that I’m even closer to where my grandma was born than she is, and now she was no longer around. I really struggled with whether or not I was going to go home for the funeral. The odds didn’t work out for me to go back, and I think this is something I will regret for a long time.

A couple of things I’ve learned from this:

  1. Never pull the “I’m going to die soon. Don’t forget about me!” guilt card to your children or grandchildren. You’ll be wrong about your death timeline and you’ll just make your kids cry themselves to sleep at night. My grandma and dad did this a couple of times looooong before they passed.
  2. I’m tired of jobs where I have to choose whether to be with family or not. I know a lot of people have jobs like this, where they are forced to choose. No way are these jobs fair to anyone. I will keep this in mind for my next employer.

Speaking of jobs, working at my school is an uphill battle. You don’t know the meaning of passive-aggressive until you’ve worked with some really bitter, 40-50 year old male Japanese teacher. This diva has hated me since day one and he makes sure I know it every time he has to interact with me. I’ll give you an example: Over here, the first introduction to anybody means a lot, like 110% a lot a lot. Diva teacher has asked me to make a self-introduction to all the classes, 15-20 minutes each. I prep all my stuff from home and pictures of family and friends, organize it so that it makes sense and such. Right before I go to my first class he says “Self-introduction is very important, you understand?”. Well, duh. We get to the class, he asks me to start introducing myself. I start with slide 1 of my family and not even two minutes, he stops me. “That’s enough, we don’t have time.” He goes, “So you’re Chinese, say a few words to us in Chinese.” I feel completely mortified by it. I flash back to 1st grade when other kids were saying “ching chong ching chong” to me, reducing me to just an outsider. Well the lesson is, no matter where you go, different workplace, different country, no matter how nice it is, there is always going to be some dumb-faced diva trying to ruin your day. But whatever, I’ve dealt with some psychopaths before.

With the whole teaching English part, it can be downright infuriating. I would have to leave that for another post. On a lighter note, here are a couple of experiences I’ve had with some of the students:

  1. I have to eat with the kids during lunch, as an encouragement to practice English. My first lunch was really great and with the first year students (US 7th graders). One of the students, who is really bright, was really intent on asking me questions, like what my favorite food is (this is the most popular question that is asked when you first talk to someone new here), if I like anime, what my favorite Japanese cute character is. She was so focused on the questions that she realized she had a lot of rice left that she had to finish within 2 minutes. “Yabai! Yabai! (Oh shoot! Oh shoot!)”, she said as she shoveled her mountain of rice.
  2. I have a 3rd year class (9th grade equivalent) which all the other teachers call “The Monkey Class”. This class is very loud and likes to jokes around. The class is scary/intimidating but still a very interesting group of kids. They are definitely not afraid to use English like most other classes. Their homeroom teacher is this prim and proper woman, who I feel kind of bad for. Here are stories from this class:
    1. First day, one of the kids asked if he looked like Obama. He kinda does.
    2. One kid in class really likes me, like really likes me. He’s kind of a creeper. He asked what Zach was like. His immediate response is “Me too! Me too!”. He will definitely say hi to me if he ever sees me in the hallway. He’s also made smoochy faces at me once. It’s hard for my face not to cringe, but at least he will study English to impress me?
    3. I was sitting in this class for lunch, the girl next to me is like trying to ask questions while her and her group of friends are maybe trying to mess with me “Chopsticks…very good!”. I “….” and nod awkwardly and I say “Yeah, I’m Chinese.” in Japanese.
  3. I’ve had numerous experiences of kids just staring at me for a longgg time and not saying anything. Is it fear of my outsider-ness? Is it curiosity? Are they just taking a really long-ass time to think of a question?! It’s hard to tell since everybody here has poker face.
  4. The wakatake (special education) class is a really great group of kids. They are all really sweet. They get really excited about class and they even remember my name (unlike some class who are just plain reluctant). I brought stickers for those that won bingo and they were super psyched about that!
  5. I’m with the 1st year students eating lunch. They started to learn “I have”. The boy sitting across from me starts to go “I have peh-nis. I have peh-nis. I have peh-nis”. He has other friends next to them and they all try to grab each other’s willies. The little girl next to me goes “Tasukete! (Help me!)” to her friends at the other lunch groups. I was thinking the same thing :////.

That’s all for now. See yousss.




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