Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merri Kurisumasu and a Happy New Year!

Hello Everyone,
Whew. A lot has happened to our family over the past few months. We made a trip back to Oklahoma during Thanksgiving to see the folks, experienced Tokyo Disney and had our first dinner with a Japanese couple in their home. Oh yeah, Christmas happened in all this activity. We had a quiet one at home--nice but a little boring since a few of us were sick. Santa managed to duck the contagion and leave some nice presents for the girls, who were up at 5:00 AM despite stern warnings to not rise before daylight. Lily, rightfully fearing for her life, climbed into bed with Claire instead of with us and commenced giggling and singing Christmas carols. The parental unit, too weak and fatigued to fight natural forces, capitulated at 5:45 AM.

A couple of days before Christmas, we decided to visit Tokyo Disney with some friends we met through the girls' swim team. We were forewarned by two travel agencies that it would be "velly busy" but we remained hopeful that it wouldn't be too bad. And it actually wasn't until 3:00 PM when the entire population of Tokyo and its 0.9 children descended on the park. By 5:00 you literally couldn't move in the shops, where everyone had run to take shelter from the pelting, freezing rain. It may sound like a less than desirable time but...we Cokers always make the best of a fiasco. I must say, you have not lived until you have seen the Country Bears belt out Jingle Bells in Japanese or had Peter Pan fly by you saying "Konnichiwa!"

Furthermore, we were scolded twice for park infractions--"No chew gum! No picture making!" (These were actually handed to our friends on little strips of paper. An awesome souvenir--almost as good as my speeding ticket I got on the Autobahn in 1990.) Being the only two western families in the park, I felt like we might have been unfairly targeted. But no. In fact, not a single other person was chewing gum or taking pictures at inappropriate times...i.e. as the roller coaster was starting to go. I mean, really, if you can't get the terror caught on film, what's the point? After that, we were afraid to eat the beef jerky we brought as a snack in our backpacks. We were left wondering whether someone would whip out a snippy slip of paper with, "No! No Beef Jerky Chewing in Park!" But alas, all was not in vain--although I was never so glad to see a hotel bar, Lily declared the trip "the best Christmas present, EVER!!!"

Of course, it goes without saying that the Japanese were all amazingly courteous and hospitable even when handing us decrees against our Americaness. Unlike their American Disney counterparts, the Japanese park-folk smiled and seemed enthusiastic about their jobs. One time, we were entering the Wild Kingdom Animal Park at Disney in Florida and the parking attendant muttered, "Have a wild day" in the same dead-pan tone as a 57-year-old Eeyore on prozac. On the contrary, the Japanese ride attendents looked like they had been waiting their whole lives for the chance to tell you that all hands and feet should remain in the car at all times. At least that's what I assume they were saying. Perhaps they were warning the locals about the stupid, gum-chewing, inappropriate-picture-making foreigners in the last car. Man...It's hard out there for a gaijin.

As well as all these festivities, I hosted a Christmas party for the senior citizens group I teach English to every Tuesday. They are a joy. Having reached the age where they no longer have to conform, they let it all hang out. We talk about everything, from religion in America to how to deal with a wife who no longer wants to cook and clean in her retirement. They all came over to our apartment for a Christmas reception and drank the heck out of spiced cider and demolished a pumpkin pie. They loved it. One of the students, a gentleman who travels quite often, invited Tim and I and the girls to his house to have dinner with his wife. Before we ate, he gave us a tour of a local Shinto shrine and Buddhist Temple because I had mentioned that I didn't know the difference between the two. They love to host americans because they had been so well received in their travels in the U.S. (George Bush, take note--Travel is the best kind of diplomacy). We had a lovely Teppanyaki dinner and some delicious homemade plum wine. The girls even tried pickled octopus. I was never so proud of them--not only did they did they sit through 4 hours of adult talk without getting fidgety, but they looked like pickled octopus was just the most tasty delicacy in the free world. ("I thought I was going to puke," admitted Claire on the ride home.)

I emailed our host a thank you several days later and stated that I hoped we could get together again very soon. He replied that he and his wife "also want to have private good time in next year." Goodness. I hope something was lost in translation.

Hope you all enjoyed a peaceful Christmas and that you'll have a fortunate and fulfilling New Year. We miss you all and hope to hear from you soon.

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