Saturday, March 9, 2013

Small World

Mamimi Surprised
What they don't tell you is that it's what they tell you. I don't really listen when people tell me what something's going to be like. Because when I do that myself I'm usually wrong. And you can't really trust movies and music or even books. Even people who've been some place before can drastically get it wrong, because they're not you. But this place is exactly like what you - any of you - would think.

Did you know Japan used to be called Nihon? Then Nippon? Well, both are still used - calm down, quick lesson - Nihon is more formal, Nippon less so. (You might see this on their Olympiads' uniforms.) As 'Ken' my interent pro kindly informed me when he brought wi-fi to my house and gave me a reason to live again, speakers just kept saying the word over time, as happens with words, and it evolved.

Nihon, Nippon, Jippon, Japan

There's a lot more to Japanese history than that and those words, but kinda like when I used the bathroom when I got off the plane in Narita, I didn't have time to explore everything with the toilet seat. Before leaving the states, my brother-in-law gave me a link to this article: A Game Developer's Take on Japan. Well over four weeks in, I feel like we've gone through every stage and back again.

Pinch me
From the toilets to the Japanese house I'm in right now, I still can't believe it. Wait, nope, it started even before that on the flight. Each meal was like Christmas morning. What's going to be inside this box?!?! Hmmm, it's so weird but good!! Sticky rice, sticky rice, sticky rice; I love sticky rice. Cold green noodles? Cold green tea? Oh... I like it! Nope, don't like the candied soy beans. Well there's always the itchy slippers from grandma under the tree.

The giant, comfy 777 and its sweet like a jelly bean flight attendants made it an easy ride - okay, the melatonin and 27 movies I could watch on the back of a fellow passenger's head didn't hurt either. Even customs was a breeze at that moment.

Everything glowed. The airport, the highways, the bridges. We passed by Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Bay. Our sponsors - the people who adopt you for a while and do angelic things like pick you up at the airport with Vitamin Water in tow, lug your eight overweight bags around and leave a million goodies in your base hotel room kitchen - took us to a "sushi-go-round" on night one.

A conveyor belt of food, computerized ordering and a streamlined cash-out? Pinch. Then it was sukiyaki the first weekend. Basically Japanese fondu. Pinch. Gyoza the second weekend. Dumplings! Pinch.

The base feels slightly rural but cradled by city. Not skyscraper cities but tightly packed buildings with itty bitty mini-vans, mopeds, bicyclists and people scooting around. There's a train station about a 15-minute walk from base, and if you take that north and slightly east, you can hit Machida. This was the movie moment. Pedestrian, cobbled streets with colorful signs, banners and lamps. Hole-in-the-wall dining that becomes fine when you go in. Shops and pachinko arcades packed with things and people.

Or you can take the train south to Kamakura and feel like you've been Star Trek energized to San Diego or Huntington Beach, a sparkling sea and leafy green island just off the coast. And then proceed to eat Hawaiian pancakes. In Japan.

Eggs 'N Things. Eat here. Whether you're in Japan or Hawaii,
where it was established in 1974.

Weekend three was Nagano. Which was......powder. A love/hate relationship for intermediate riders. But on top of a mountain on an island in the Pacific, deliciously light and cool powder waiting for us in the back country, I pinched the black and blue spot in my mind once again. Some saw the ocean from one of the peaks. The town we stayed in was Hakuba. When you go to dinner - padding through the snow and lights - you feel like you're going to someone's cozy home, and that they've been waiting for you all along, ready to host a dinner party for you and your friends. All of a sudden it feels like you've known everyone and every place forever.

Ski Japan Holidays
The last evening I went to an onsen and saw a lot of naked Japanese women. But I was naked, too. And not a single person stares. It's as if we've all just been born, or reborn if we're talking cylons here, and are simply cleaning off and enjoying the warmth or coolness of each pool. The baths are filled with hot spring water pumped into the resort from somewhere probably at the end of a rainbow. There are saunas and sprinkling, steam rooms. A waterfall here, a view of the slopes there. Care for your own little sit-down shower first? Don't mind if I do. Oh, here's some shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, moisturizer, some kind of oil, Q-tips, tissue, hairbrushes, real hairdryers - oh my! Pinch me.

Growing pains
Even though the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and the temperature is warming - even though there are the most amazing vending machines on every city block - there's still responsibility. Find a vehicle. Find a home. Pay your bills. Do your work. I've never done so much paperwork in my life, for over three months now. More than 90 days of homelessness doesn't take as much of a toll on a girl as I would've thought, but it sure is nice to have a residence with walls again, a place to stockpile food, no maid service to coordinate and no people you feel you owe your life to for taking care of you for way too long.

The car is tinier than I thought, the house bigger. I'd only been to the house a couple times, driven by someone else, from different directions, day and night. So when I went to meet the express shipment movers, I took our one car, left with enough time to meander around my makeshift directions and promptly got lost. After what felt like a five-minute driving class for base newcomers, I was somehow handed a Japanese driver's license. Even scoring one point better than the naval aviator. But I knew that point would pop once I hit the left side of the street. So this is how the drive to my new home went...


This is how parking in our parking spot went. (Note: Most cars here have a button to fold down the side mirrors.)


But I made it. There and in. And now I'm in an empty house since Cary flew back to San Diego for some training in a simulator this base doesn't have. I don't think it has any sims. But they do have heated toilet seats, which is what matters.

It's starting to feel real here. That this is my life, and it's going to become home and something I get used to instead of just a landscape to cause shock and awe and drool and frustration. The trains can be empty or packed. The processes stupid or smooth. The food healthy or unhealthy. The people nice or not. (Blah, blah, blah.) But crime stats are in your favor. It's freezing but heaters are everywhere. It will be unbearably humid; just don't get bangs and wash your flight suits more often. There isn't always soap or towels. But there are decorations in unlikely spots and bullet trains. Ultimately, it's a small, balanced world.

Heart for Japan by Delphine Perrot
Dezeen Magazine
Doing this excitingly scary thing undeniably tied to Cary's coattails seems like the best thing I could've done for me. Because it's well, hard. It forces you to have faith in yourself in a lot of different ways. I choose to go on a second date, said yes, mulled over the military with him. Now I'm constantly learning things I don't always want to learn. Because it's just that, hard.

To be brave. To be flexible. To move. A lot. To live alone, sometimes in a foreign country, in the dark, in a house with giant storm shudders that shake with the wind. To bow to the singletons and the mothers, and sometimes the fathers, who do it all by their lonesome. To drive safely on the left-hand side of the road and car (knock hard on wood) - like every other American, flicking on the windshield wipers every time I want to make a turn. To turn down a mountain in thigh high powder.

To write words no one really reads.


Linda said...

Oh, Aly, what a wonderful article! I have been thinking about you two and wondering how you were making out in your latest adventure. You and Cary are perfect for this and I so admire you! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. God bless you both for your service!

Mark and Linda

Dane said...

Loved it Aly! Thanks for being a talented writer.

Aly Lawson said...

Thanks for being, well, a pillar, Dane.

And thank you, Linda! Come visit us. =0)

Dane, you, too. Bring Halsi and Kelli. (We think about Hawaiiiiii often.)

Anonymous said...

You are the brave one! Love the words and your new life. Those of us in your old life get a glimpse! Marti

Anonymous said...

Bloody fantastic Aly!!!!

You either sink or swim! I'm proud of you. I'll definitely miss it, but the thirst is there, call on me anytime you're down for a new/scary experience.


Aly Lawson said...