30 September 2008

The trip over

When I moved to Japan, I famously had two bags and a guitar. I will probably tell this story the rest of my life. When I moved to Niigata, I had added two more boxes. When Yoko and I moved to Shibata, it was some forty boxes and furniture. When we came to England, we checked 14 bags (3 free, one free bike, and ten extra bags) and carried on 6 bags. We were also supposed to have a stroller, but we left it in Mito by accident.

My plan was to have all these bags shipped from Heathrow to our Bed and Breakfast for some 150 pounds. All went as planned on the Japanese side—our bags were at Narita and I was able to get them to the British Airways counter with help from Iori, Yoko's brother's partner, who basically saved our lives for about a week before we left. That left us with the 6 carry-ons (one back pack, two duffle bags, two wheeled bags, and a diaper bag). This was a lot (more than I would suggest, especially if you are traveling with a baby), but we managed, me carrying my backpack, pulling the two wheeled bags with the diaper bag and duffle on top of each and Yoko carrying the baby and one or two of the duffles, depending on the situation.

I was worried that we were going to have trouble getting all of this on the plane, but nobody stopped us and when we got on the plane (before everyone, of course), I was able to get everything into the overhead compartments without too much trouble. We were in the bulkhead too, which was pretty nice, especially since we didn't have a seat for Naomi.

We took off and Naomi fed and didn't have any trouble with the pressure change (although I have a feeling that the technology has gotten better on planes because I don't have any problems with my ears and I always used to be really sensitive to it). About two hours after takeoff, some juice started to drip down from the ceiling on the row behind us which was pretty weird, and required everyone behind us getting moved. This turned out to be pretty great because the dripping stopped, but the people didn't move back, leaving us with another row to exploit.

Naomi did a really good job and slept on and off through the flight. I didn't get any sleep, but I did finally get to see the Sex and the City movie that I have been waiting to see and didn't think it was as bad as everyone had said.

When we landed at Heathrow, things went really well: we had visas so we went right through immigration and all of our bags came through without any trouble. I was able to get everything on three carts and we paid a porter 8 quid to push one of them to the left luggage.

At left luggage, I told them of my plans to ship everything (per the e-mails I had traded with the company). They had to take every bag individually and measure it and weigh it before they would quote me a price (although I asked a couple of times for a rough figure, expecting it to be, as I was quoted, about 150 pounds). After about 20 minutes of measuring, they finally came back and said it was going to be like 430 pounds, which I was shocked at and immediately refused. One of the guys at the store also told me that I could rent a van for next to nothing and just take it up myself. I had thought about this before and decided to just go ahead with it.

Well, I went to the car rental kiosk which is basically just a phone bank and asked the guy who was directing people there what I should do and he told me I should just put everything on the Avis van, go to the Avis office and try to change my reservation. So Yoko and I pushed the carts (now at 4 for some reason) out to the buses to get the Avis van. The Avis van comes and the driver looks at all my stuff sort of skeptically, but agrees to put it all in the van and take me to the office. Or at least, half of it, at which point he says, how are you going to get all of this in your car? I say, Well, I am going to change my reservation and he says, There is no car there big enough to carry all of this, you have to go rent a van. So he makes me unload everything.

By now, it's about 8 and Yoko is standing there on the curb with Naomi, who is on her back and asleep. The porter guy comes around and asks me what I'm doing and I tell him, and he gives me some advice about where to rent a van, so I leave Yoko on the curb, go back to the Kiosk to try to call the van rental place, but it is now closed, apparently. So with no other options and my wife and daughter out in the cold, waiting with our stuff, I decide to just punt and put everything in left luggage and work something out in the morning.

We paid the porter to put everything on a huge cart (at a cost of 16 quid) and take it back to the left luggage. At this point, I was a little worried about the reception we were going to get at left luggage as I had them go through this once before, but they were accommodating and took everything at 6.50 a bag (12 bags) and Yoko and Naomi and I went back out to wait for the Avis van.

When we got to the Avis office, I was pretty disappointed as the 'small' cars were not really that small, and the car I had reserved was, in fact, much larger than I thought. I would have been able to put at least three more bags into it if I had brought them, but by then it was about 9 and after explaining my problems to the Avis guy and him trying to help me, we just decided to go with what I had.

I had never driven in England before, and on no sleep, at nine in the evening, I was a little bit concerned, but I only made one wrong turn coming out of the airport, and was quickly on the expressway and in MK in about an hour (as we had planned).

All in all it was much more stressful than it needed to be on the arrival side. If I had just put everything in left luggage immediately, it would have been much easier, but it worked out as I just spent the next day couriering things back and forth and was able to get the flat in time and all of that.

Can you believe it?

新しいイメージ

I am at the library at the OU and finally, finally, finally connected to the intranet. Here's what I have been up for the last week.

-Basically living in Ikea. I was in Ikea for my whole life it feels like. Famed older brother's earlier comment set me straight. So I went and saw a vision that helped me create a closet.
-Putting stuff away.
-New student orientation which has been pretty incredible. I am wicked lucky to be at this school. Our little class is pretty international. Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Holland, South Africa, China, Bangladesh, Palestine, Germany, Cyprus. Some other ones too.
-Yoko is still feeling ill.
I have a lot left to do, but now that we don't have a car, things are going to settle down and I can start to work on a little bit more academic things.

Okay, now I have to go.

25 September 2008

Rolling blackouts

I am going to disappear from the Internet for a couple of days, until it is installed in the house. I suggest you continue to hit refresh on this page until I reappear.

24 September 2008

Photo taken by famed older brother

Video call snapshot 42

And finally

There is something about Europe in Autumn with a morning sick wife...

Send money

We are moving in on Thursday.

Today was about 50% successful.
  • Didn't get a bank account.
  • Ordered the Internet.
  • Got some needed furniture and the rice cooker.
  • Took a pass on the first car I have looked at.
When the Internet does comes I will be able to call the US for free.

We will be blacking out on Thursday for a couple of days (or weeks, depending on the availability of the Internets).

I will let you know.

News in Britain seems to be revolving around Gordon Brown and how much people think he sucks. And knife violence.

In Japan, Taro Aso (Xenophob, wicked ugly dude) has been elected Primer.

I miss the quirkiness of Japan.

England is so much more straightforward.


13 Pimpernel Grove, Walnut Tree, Milton Keynes MK7 7LQ UK

23 September 2008

Whoa-hey!

I am on a roll now, and secured the apartment for Thursday. Thursday we will move in and get to level the next level of settling down. This means I can now set up a bank account and then order the Internets. Then a car. Then we are finished. Or then I can start getting to work. I have a meeting with a fellow student and professor, and then orientation on Friday.

22 September 2008

Some Photos

Explanations in the photo descriptions:

12 Pimpernell, Walnut Tree


Edith's Cottage in Woolstone


Nana in England


At the OU


Nana and Mama


Stephen and Naomi at the OU

On a roll

Okay, we are rolling now, and you know, not in that sense you dirty-minded minds (if you don't know what that means, carrying on). Here's what happened today. We got up late. And then we went to check out this church service that Yoko had seen on a blog or something. I wasn't quite sure what it was, but Yoko said there might be Japanese people there so we went.

When we got into the sanctuary, it was bizarre--like we had suddenly re-entered Japan. Everything was exactly the same: the same songs, the same people, the same organ. The welcome card in Japanese. The service started and we began the first song. Yoko started crying and suddenly I was crying too. Naomi wandered around the whole time, and afterwards, there was tea and Japanese snacks and we all chatted in Japanese for about 30 minutes. I have now met more Japanese people in England than English people.

And suddenly, before I knew it, I was saying that I was willing to teach English privately to the Japanese community there. I am back on the horse, but come to think of it, between teaching English and working at the supermarket, maybe teaching English is the best thing for me. I make about four times what I would doing anything else, and it's much easier.

It's looking likely that we will get a car as it is not as expensive as I thought and will probably help us out a little bit getting around here and there and going where we need to go. Now to find a reasonably-priced car...

21 September 2008

Less to do

It's Sunday now and the first day I have not had anything that I need to get done immediately. I'm going to be happy when we get to our own place and have a bit more privacy and quiet. We are going to a church service this afternoon that might be in Japanese, but we aren't quite sure.

I still need to get a bank account and sign up for the Internets, but this can't be done until they clear my application for the apartment and we move in. So I gotta hold off for another three days or so.

I put my bicylce together though and rode around a bit yesterday. Really easy to get around on a bike here. Really, really easy. And beautiful too.

A Poem

from Sarah Lang's The Work of Days

[The City has drawn a blank. How big]

The City has drawn a blank. How big
you are; a tarmac in the cool summer.

You pretend to love them all. Let
is a word like a creek in spring.

We are strangers; there are ways
to lie. There are trees, there are

trees, there are trees. The wind
does many things. A Hungarian sign

is not unlike your mouth. I never claimed
gravity, strength. From the left, a cot

has great significance. Like the city
we squeeze in tight for a photograph.

20 September 2008

Anarchy in the UK, Extended Tour: Day 3

Well, we have a flat. I'm not sure I made the right choice, but it was within our price range and the best thing I saw out of four. Not as much looking as I would have liked, but given the time crunch (we must leave the B&B by next Friday), I'm happy taking the hit and just getting it done straight away, rather than having to move to another hotel. It is cheaper than I expected, about a ten minute walk from the OU, and about a 15 minute walk from a huge shopping center that has a large Tesco (the UK Jusco or Wal*mart). So we won't need a car. It about a three minute walk from a bus stop that can also take us to the hospital and city centre. I am happy enough with it and it's only a one year lease. After that, we can find something bigger when my grant payment goes up.

It is smaller than I would have liked and am a bit concerned about that. I was thinking about everyone who is intending on visiting us here, and whether it will support two kids (once our second child is born) and four adults. But, at the end of the day, I think it is the best choice for us, and we gotta do what's right for the day-to-day life, I think.

Everyone here asks, 'You alright?' as a kind of greeting. I always feel like saying, Uh, yeah, I am--do I look like I'm not alright? Japanese has this same nuance--asking someone 'How are you?' sort of implies that they might not look well. I remember this because Dan and I used to ask the pastor of the church in Fukuoka how he was every morning and he always looked a bit confused. Someone finally explained to us that we should probably lay off that.

I have a problem greeting people with 'Howdy' (something I picked up when the famed older brother went to Texas A&M and I was terribly jealous).  This is not a good greeting in the UK, though, as today I said, Howdy to someone and they responded, Fine, thanks.

We also went to Ikea, which I had never been to and was amazed by. It's like Disneyland for furniture. I made me immediately aware that our apartment is too small.

19 September 2008

Things I have

  • A mobile phone (44 07596 931031)
It's just a pay as you go phone, so this number may become Yoko's as I hope to get an iPhone eventually. But until then (or probably not ever, given that we will be poor for the perceivable future) you can contact me there.

We have been around Milton Keynes now. It's a very green place and very, very wooded. In fact, it's hard not being able to see anything because of the trees. There are also no billboards or store signs, so it's like a maze of trees until you come upon one of the estates or villages. And there are almost no traffic signals. Only roundabouts. Everywhere roundabouts.

We went up to the Open Unversity and it is, in fact, a real place. Much, much bigger than I thought, much more professional looking than I imagined. I don't know why I felt like it wasn't a real place or that it would be some shoddy, hole in the wall where diplomas are printed on Inkjet printers. I'll put some pictures up, eventually.

Yoko and Naomi are holding up well, although Naomi is just very confused looking and little ill. I think the change in food, time, everything is tough on her. Yoko is doing very well, too. I am going to count all the times I hear someone say 'Oh, like Yoko Ono?' when she is introduced. The count stands currently at 1.

I miss Japan.

Baggage problem: sorted out

I have been in the car for five hours today and have driven 300 miles in the last 24 hours. But all of our baggage is now at the B&B and I saved about $700. So I can't really complain.

18 September 2008

Socialism

I HATE the idea of the government doing anything in regard to healthcare (that's socialism friends), but when it comes to the government buying large stakes in banks: that's no problem at all, obviously.

Safe and sound

Longest day of my life, but we are now in Milton Keynes. Naomi did well on the plane. Yoko isn't sick yet. The B&B was easy to find and looks to be terrific. If only we could stay here for a few months... Our luggage situation is a bit of a mess and caused us to waste about an hour and half trying to decide what to do. In the end, we left it all at the airport at 65 pounds a day. I think instead of trying to rent a van, I'm just going to make two trips back tomorrow in the car we rented.

Now, to get an apartment, cell phone, and some other stuff.

16 September 2008

15 September 2008

Almost

We are almost ready to go.

And in surprise, breaking news: wait for it.... yes, Yoko is pregnant. Ha! May 11th.

Baby #2

We are sort of surprised, but pretty excited. This time around is going to be a lot better. I'm also glad it's happening at this point, as the morning (and by morning, I mean all day) sickness doesn't kick in for another two weeks or so, so we should be done travelling by that point.

It's time to give up the ghost: I am now a family man.

Naomi in Disneyland

IMG_0256

14 September 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth (!)

A while back, when we were planning this trip across Japan to see what can be seen, I mentioned to Yoko that it would be fun if we went to Tokyo Disneyland on our way up to Mito. Take a Wednesday afternoon to stroll around the park, eat cotton candy, what-have-you. In the course of our planning, this morphed into going with Yoko's brother's family yesterday. Now, if you know anything about Japan, you know that there are many places to avoid on the weekends, but Tokyo Disneyland is probably at the top of that list, by a long shot. But since the plan was made, my Japanese side kicked in and I thought, Sure, there will be a lot of people, and it will probably be expensive, but if I keep expectations low, this will work out for the best.

Well, I was more or less right on that. There were a lot of people. A LOT of people. And the lines were long (we got through Splash Mountain in about 2 hours and 15 minutes). But I was determined not to be that guy who gets pissed about the lines and the trains and the parking and the cost of things and just accept it for what it is. And I think I did a pretty good job, considering. Well, I did an okay job.

Anyway, we should be leaving soon.

11 September 2008

Slow burn

This is our third day in Mito and I think we are going to leave the house today. At least, that is the plan. We are going down to Chiba to see one of Yoko's friends who recently had a baby. I am thinking of going along to get out of the house and see what can be seen around whatever big station there is around there.

Sometime in the last four years, I have developed a terrible allergy to dogs. I don't know how or why or where, but it is just awful now and everywhere we have gone on this trip, I have been surrounded by them. I even took to wearing the ridiculous Japanese surgical mask in hopes of getting some sleep last night.

But I made all the final reservations for housing and car rental in the UK, so that should all be taken care of now. The next big task will be somehow getting into an apartment after we get there. There are a couple of promising leads, but I'm not sure they are going to pan out. I'm sort of worried that I'm going to end up just making a rash decision and taking whatever is first available.

My eeepc has also been having trouble with windows making it more and more likely that eventually I am going to put Xandros on it whenever I get settled.

10 September 2008

A VP that cusses

I like that Joe Biden cusses sometimes and that he always prefaces important things by saying 'how in the name of Jesus' or 'for the love of almighty god''.

Another week of Palin, another week of being wrong?

I said at the beginning of this that I thought it was laughable, and I still do think it's laughable. But what I didn't imagine was that she would be able to not be interviewed, not talk about what she really believes, and read McCain talking points off of a teleprompter and that would be okay. It's incredible.

09 September 2008

Mito

Now, I am in Mito, with good Internet access, so I am back in black.

The drive to Mito was about 75% heaven and 35% hell. Many of you know that I am skeptical of the idea of hell, but if there were one, it would involve being lost in Tokyo in rush hour with a screaming baby and a pissed off wife.

Navigating in Japan is awful. Thinkingcrowd will probably give me a witness on this. No good signs. Nothing is marked. Nobody has any idea where anything is. And it's so effing expensive. Today, just getting out of Nagoya, a total of maybe 10 klicks was north of 1500 yen. Getting lost in Tokyo was another 2000 yen, and my sanity. Although, the road we accidentally took was the elevated highway through Shibuya, so you have this weird sensation of flying as you are in between the high rise apartments.

I have a post about teaching English in Japan and Palin in me. We'll see if they both come out tonight.

Nagoya

Now, we are at Yoko's Grandmother's home in Nagoya. I found wifi in the air, so you can see some photos now of our trip.

In this photo, I burn a candle at a shrine for the reduction of stress and remind readers of my blog to believe in what you want.

Famed older brother sends the following quote from a WSJ article, which I would say is about 76% true:
"Did Mr. Theroux find suspicion of strangers in any country on his latest journey? What about Japan? 'Hmm . . . let me think,' he responds, playing with his chin. 'Japan doesn't have suspicion of strangers. They just have an utter lack of interest. They have a settled sense of themselves as an advanced culture, a sense that other people aren't doing things right. They think their food is best, their way of living is best. They lack space, but in all other ways they feel they've got it figured out.'"
IMG_0182

07 September 2008

Living the dream

This is our last day in Kansai, and I gotta say, it's a bit bittersweet. Today, I was out in the garden, smoking a cigar, clearing grass and thinking how great it's been to relax. It has been nice, the whole week and next week is shaping up to be pretty relaxing too. Before I know it, we will be in the UK, though, and I will be studying Social Research this fall, with a section on Ethnography--right up my alley.

Now, to pack the car.

05 September 2008

Kansai

We've been taking it pretty easy this week seeing the best parts of Japan and enjoying not having much to worry about. Yesterday was Osaka again and today we ran around Kyoto for the day. Kyoto was pretty incredible and Japan as Japan was. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next 11 days as we continue to unwind and unwind before we have to wind back up in the ol' UK. We'll see what happens.

The yen got wicked strong against the pound in the last two weeks bringing our loss up to like $1,500. There's only one thing to do at times like this--buy more. Then it sort of averages out.

This Palin thing is playing out like I thought. I give her a 50/50 chance of making it to the election. I love that they have to give her a week to get training for MSM coverage. This is not the time for that, kids, especially when you're trailing in the polls and your oponents have both been under the gun for the last two years. I see Obama getting closer to 10 points by election day.

03 September 2008

Kobe

So now I am in Kobe using some sort of free Internet cafe. Yoko and Naomi and I had a good day, and they just went back to Yoko's Aunt and Uncle's while I stayed on to have dinner with one of my friends from my Laos trip.

You might recall that I turned down a job in Kobe to go to England and I'll tell you what, I'm glad as hell that I didn't come here before I made that decision. Kobe is incredible. A really livable place it seems. I think coming back here will still be on the table.

I am feeling sort of bad for Naomi though because, as she isn't going to daycare anymore, she doesn't have anyone to play with. Today, she chased down one kid and made him cry, made another boy cry when she went up to his stroller and started touching his feet, and chased a whole family around Uniqlo. Then, to make matters worse, when she found two kids playing in the play area at the shoe store, the little boy yelled out, She's a foreigner! Look, look a foreigner! A foreigner! and wouldn't shut up.

Anyway, despite this, we are having a good, relaxing time. Our housing is looking up a little too, as I played some hardball and may get the place we wanted for less that we thought. That would be great, but I'm kepeing my hopes about it at bay. Hopefully, England will make me forget Kobe. We'll have to see though.

02 September 2008

Proper Post

I've had a bad Internet connection this week, and it will continue to be spotty. But I have been typing off of the grid, so you will get the benefit of that. Today, I also met friend of the show, Kansai Todd, the first Internet friend I ever met offline. Kansai Todd is a nice guy and didn't kill me, so I think I will probably do it again.

I did not expect leaving Niigata would ever come. It has been one summer in the making, from when I arrived back from Moscow and drove home in my brother-in-law's car late that Monday night. It was condensed at that point, just an idea still. For that week from when I heard that I had won the studentship until I talked to my boss the Tuesday after I got back, everything was intensely full of hope and pride and excitement. And then it all came crashing down—the reality that it would require actually going and actually selling so many of our things and detaching again. It would require a miserable four weeks at work, fear of being fired, fear of having money taken from me, fear that it would all fall through...this depression hung over me for the summer. But I always had my eye on this day, on being on the ferry, on leaving it all behind me.

It was not quite what I expected. Yoko and I argued as we left, we got stuck at the courier office. We ran to the church to drop more of our things and rushed to make our ferry. When I was finally standing as close to the helm of the ship as we could, Naomi was in Yoko's arms, and Yoko was crying as we said goodbye to what is and was and will be our place—where we met, were married, had Naomi, kissed for the first time at the edge of the Agano River.

It was hard to say goodbye, but the difficulty was certainly eased by the sheer amount of things we had to do to get out of the apartment. So much to throw away, so much to give away, so much to pack. I'm not sure we were able to get it all done well, or done right, or accurately, but it got done...or rather, there was nothing left in the apartment when we left. That's all we were really hoping for, I guess. And that's what we got.

I have been feeling like a failure for the summer, like I had screwed up my job, screwed up my marriage, and was headed the wrong way in my life. This was, of course, not entirely true, but feelings are difficult things to overcome. So today, as we settled into the ferry and I realized I screwed another something up by not bringing my bag up from the car, I started to read some of the information from The Open University that I hadn't gotten around to reading. It had my schedule for the next year and what was coming up, and I started to get excited again. I saw that the school is also going to pay for all of my books, which really got me happy again and made me realize that I am not a total fuck-up, and even though this summer has been a disaster, the fall is looking to be okay. And I made the right choice.

And I guess I am also proud of us, of my little family, that despite it being ugly and very poorly done, we did get it all done in a relatively short amount of time. So much to still be done, but this is, hands down, the hardest thing I have done. With no family to help us move on this side or that, I am proud that we were able to pull it off. We'll see what I have to say in two months.

01 September 2008

Out

We got out of Niigata. It was close. It was tight. The car could fit nothing else. But we got out. The apartment was empty and that is all that matters.

Now we are at Yoko's Aunt's house, which is really a care home for elderly people, but there aren't any elderly people here now (or only a couple) so we have our own apartment. Zing!

Now to go bask in my newfound freedom from work and stress for 17 days.
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