Thursday, December 25, 2008

All I Want For Christmas

When I was a kid, all I wanted for Christmas was toys. A tree with a boatload of wrapped gifts filled me with excitement. When I was a young adult, the shine started to wear off a bit, but I was still pretty happy with getting big ticket "toys" like a stereo or tech gadgets. As I entered my later 20's and 30's, I felt a hunger every year to return to the excitement I used to feel at getting and giving "stuff".

I'm pleased to say that the transition is complete and I don't have a desire to receive things at all anymore. I still have a desire to give, but I'm satisfied to do so in relatively small, but non-perfunctory ways. My choices are based one what I think people might enjoy but can't obtain for themselves easily (or at all), not on impressing with packaging style or price tag guesses.

This year, I did "receive". One of my students gave me pound cake. Another gave me a small bunch of flowers. Another gave me apples, another a giant butter pear, and yet another persimmons. My husband got wine, cookies, and chocolates from his students. My sister gave me much needed articles of clothing. It's nothing big, but it's more than I expected and as much as I could have wanted.

The only thing I really want at this time of year is more time with my husband, and that is what I'm going to get. Starting from tomorrow, he'll have 12 days off and we'll have the luxury of spending most of the day together during that time. I'm still working during some of the holiday, but by and large we'll have a plethora of hours together. Having time with the people you love is really the best gift. Getting over the materialistic part of Christmas helps you appreciate that.

I hope everyone has a really wonderful time with whatever free time they have this Christmas. :-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Chicken or the Egg

When I was studying psychology, one of the points we discussed was whether or not biological responses followed psychological reactions or whether the psychological reactions were the result of biology. That is, when you are scared into a "fight or flight" reaction, do you first experience the release of adrenaline and then feel fear, or do you feel fear then the adrenaline is released?

At the time, I recall thinking that it didn't really matter all that much. I also thought that it was an odd question to ask as I was sure that feeling preceded neurochemical release. As I look back on the question, I realize that there may have been a deeper issue to explore. If biology precedes psychological responses, then our emotions and responses are mere slaves to our internal chemical processes. The fact that people often experience mood swings in accord with things like hormones and blood sugar levels definitely supports this idea.

On the other hand, I don't know that we can say we are slaves to our biology. As I sit here typing, I'm slowly being overtaken by post-meal sluggishness. I know my tired feeling is being set off by biology and I wonder to what extent I can reject that response and push my body and mind not to act on this all too common response to having recently eaten. Soldiers have been trained to effectively maintain their core body temperature in freezing water. They can suppress their need to shiver and keep their trunk warm so that they will not experience a slowing of their heart rate so rapidly. If we can "think" our way out of biological response, surely this would encourage the idea that our feelings and mental application are masters of biology rather than the other way around.

I wonder if, in the end, the entire question of which comes first is at its heart a debate over a mindset that reduces man to the sum of his chemistry or one that elevates him to master over his particular biological domain. One viewpoint renders us powerless and the other grants us a great deal of power over ourselves. What is much more interesting to me than which is true is what would motivate a particular person to embrace one theory or another. These days, I'm much more inclined to view us as capable of influencing our biology should we apply ourselves to doing so, particularly when it comes to mastering emotions and responses to stimuli.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Baking 2008

Two finished bags in front of a bag of treats for my husband to take to work (he assembles his bags at work).

I'd apologize for the lack of updates if I didn't think everyone was just as busy as I and therefore not really missing the distraction of my posts. I've been on a baking treadmill over the last week and a half or so getting baking goods together as gifts for students.

Last year, the CH and I gave students a goodie bag with a variety of chocolates and peanut butter cookies. This cost quite a lot and I'm not sure that the students necessarily were keen on the chocolates anyway. They seemed to be far more impressed by the cookies. This year, we decided to go with bags of only homemade goodies both because we felt the students would enjoy them more and it costs about 1/3 of what buying a bunch of candy cost.

Because of this, I've been trying to streamline the baking process and string it out so that things are fresher. Instead of baking 6 dozen cookies and freezing the finished product, I made a double batch of the dough, split it into 6 discs and froze the dough. When we need more cookies, I thaw out the dough and bake up as many as needed for the following day. All in all, this is a labor saver and it also spares me one day of absolutely exhausting baking. One of the biggest drawbacks of of living in Japan is that the oven is so small that you can't get make many cookies at once. I can't even bake two trays at once because they won't bake properly.

What I'm saving time-wise on the peanut butter cookie front, I'm losing on the fact that 3 baked goods take more time than one. Well, "baked goods" isn't really quite right because one of the items is Rice Krispies treats. Yes, I know they are low rent and considered pretty nasty by a lot of people, but the truth is that the students really enjoy them. One of the CH's students liked them so much when she had them during a homestay that she special ordered boxes of the cereal so she could try to make them for herself in Japan. Unfortunately for her, they were spoiled by Japanese marshmallows (which are not make with gelatin like American ones so they don't lend the same texture or flavor to the Rice Krispies treats).

The third item is brownies. Tonight, I made the third pan of them and I think that should be the last of them, but there's still more need for pans of buttery molten marshmallow and another tub of peanut butter dough. We aren't giving the students that much per person (5 cookies, 1 brownie and 1 treat for the CH's students), but when you're doling things out to about 30 people, it really starts to add up. Anyway, I'm hoping to see some free time starting the last week of December and hopefully can get back to life as usual.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tiny Bouqet

One of my students surprised me today with a small, but extremely beautiful bouquet as a Christmas gift.

The colors are incredibly deep and lovely.

There are some tiny pine branches in with the flowers that give it a nice Christmas feel. It really brightens up my desk and I very much appreciate the student's thoughtfulness.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Yesterday morning, one of my student was pecking at her electronic dictionary to find a translation for a particular concept or word and she showed me the result in the dictionary. The result was "fomp". I never heard of such a word so I checked at and it turned up no result. The urban dictionary has three results, but I'm pretty sure that none of them (particularly not the extremely disgusting last one) apply to the relationship between her grandmother and her family.

For years now, I've been telling Japanese people that they cannot trust their Japanese to English dictionaries and that the results they get have to be double-checked with an English only dictionary. In particular, I've encouraged them to check example sentences when looking up a word to check the proper context in which various words are used. For years now, I've been looked back at as if I were making up fairy tales. The students simply don't believe that their dictionaries, which are the finest technology major electronics companies offer, are more fallible than their teacher who is just some schmo who ended up teaching English in Japan.

I'm pretty sure that the three cornerstones of bad English in Japan are:
  • Inaccurate dictionaries and textbooks full of bad translations.
  • Japanese teachers of English who aren't even close to fluent and teach their students all of their mistakes.
  • The plethora of mangled Engrish and Japangrish which saturates the culture and makes people think that certain phrases are proper English use.
In regards to that last note, I used to see and read people repeating crap English used in big advertising campaigns. About 15 years ago, JR did a big advertising campaign where they wrote "traing" ("train" + "ing") to promote the idea of "let's travel by train" (because "ing" is used for gerunds). I started to get reports from students around that time with nouns that had "ing" added to the end of them, aping the expansive ad campaign. Another contamination by advertising I still experience to this day is "charm point". Students will ask what my "charm point" is as if this is a set concept everyone understands. What they really mean is "outstanding feature".

I guess that the mangled English is a two-edged sword. The presence of so much English (or "Engrish") provides a point of reference for students which increases their overall ability to understand and relate to English. On the other side though, breaking bad habits or the use of incorrect phrases, words and grammar is pretty much impossible. Once a Japanese high school teacher drills students to say things like, "I have ever been to (place)," it is completely beyond my magic teaching skills to break the student from using this incorrect phrasing.

Someone really should do something about the dictionaries though. There's really no excuse for that besides being too cheap or sloppy to get the information in there correctly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sharon

My sister was born on the 13th, which unfortunately subjected her to a lot of comments from parents and relatives when that date happened to fall on a Friday. We all know how Friday the 13th is supposed to be so unlucky. She was also born in December, which meant that the proximity of her birthday to Christmas meant people often didn't shop especially for her birthday. My mother would usually pull out an extra Christmas gift and give it to her early.

On the bright side, when your birthday is this close to the biggest holiday of the year, you can look forward to it because you'll get a week off from school in the near future. For me, my birthday was 3-5 days before school started so I never felt entirely great about its arrival.

My sister is 46 this year and I'm sure she wouldn't like me to remind her of it, but I'm glad she's been around for all of my life. The truth is that she has provided better stability and a closer familial bond than my parents ever did. These days we talk about 5 days a week, sometimes more, and I'm immensely grateful for the technology that allows us to have such a bond when we live on nearly opposite sides of the planet. I'm also immensely grateful that she's my sister and hope this is a special day for her because she deserves it. Happy birthday, Sharon, and all of my love to you.

Surrendering Control

Yesterday, one of my students showed up with a nasty welt across her right hand. It looked like she had a rather severe accident with a car door or raked her hand across something, but it was actually a long, nasty crescent-shaped burn. When I asked her how it happened, she said it had to do with oden. Oden is various vegetables and fish stuff floating in a boiling hot vat of smelly liquid which is often sold in convenience stores in open vats when it gets cold. I don't like it, but most people (even foreigners) love it.

An oden-related accident is no surprise because the places that sell it have to keep the liquid hot to keep all the airbourne bacteria falling into the open air boiling boxes at bay. I figured she probably tried to snarf it down too rapidly and spilled some on herself. The story was actually a little different.

She told me she safely transported her oden home and planned to eat it later by microwaving it. She also said that her dog, a bulldog, loved oden and that if she ate it while her dog was around, the dog would sit next to her as she ate and drool at her or bark to beg. So, she waited until her dog was asleep and microwaved her oden. Because she was trying to hurry and eat it as fast as possible so the dog wouldn't smell it and wake up and come over to beg, she yanked it out of the microwave and spilled it on her hand and burned herself badly. The dog woke up and she ended up feeding most of it to the dog anyway.

One could be flabbergasted at how a person could surrender control of their life to a dog in this way. I certainly would not try to gobble down a favored dish clandestinely to keep a pet from begging for it nor would I feed most of it to the pet when I failed, but I do think we all allow the expectations, wishes, and actions of others to control us. Sometimes this is a form of loving accomodation which is good for a relationship as surrendering control shows someone you care more about their needs than your own. I'm guessing this is why my student, who I think loves her dog more than her husband, did what she did. Sometimes though, we surrender control out of fear of the consequences if we do not or as a result of our own insecurity when it comes to asserting our needs. I know I've been guilty of both of those.

I told my student that it was a good thing that she didn't have any children. If the behavior of her dog was enough to have her caving in like this, I can only imagine the influence children might have on her.

Friday, December 12, 2008

1965 or 2008?

Awhile ago, the CH started asking his students a question about the world they'd prefer to live in. He asked his students if they would prefer to live in the social environment of 1965, where the roles of men and women were more clearly divided, or if they'd prefer to stick with the social situation of 2008. Unsurprisingly, most of the men chose 1965 and most of the women chose 2008. In 1965, men still operated in the world of lifetime employment while the women were at home supporting them as wives and mothers. It was a time when men were men and women were trapped in the limits society imposed upon them.

Most people feel that the world was a better place in their youth and older people often lament that people were more civilized back when. Personally, I don't have a sense that people were any better when I was younger. I think they're just obnoxious in a different way now compared to the past. I do believe there was a time which predated my birth by a fair amount of time when people were taught more rigid notions of social interaction and "manners" which discouraged them from indulging their emotions every time someone bumped into them or treated them rudely.

Some Americans have balked for quite some time at the idea of rules of manner. The main reason for this is that many such rules evolved as a means of showing deference to status in other cultures and we like to pretend we are all equals. One way to assert your equality is to not treat a person with false respect simply based on perceived status. Personally, I feel this has been a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. Good manners are about treating others with the same level of consideration and kindness you'd like to be treated with, not showing that someone is owed some level of deference.

Growing up, I wasn't role-modeled any manners at all. Neither of my parents ever said "please" or "thank you" to me or my sister for anything, though they at times insisted that we do so. In fact, as an adult, I have never once received a word of gratitude for anything I have given or done for my parents. Every year, no matter what Christmas present I sent them, they always complained about it. If I sent coffee, it was the wrong kind. If I bought clothes, they didn't really need them or the style was lacking. If I sent candy, they really didn't want more sweets around. Eventually, I just gave up and relied on my sister's opinion that candy (I send See's) was good because my parents always ate it up and enjoyed it, even while they complained about having received it and never offered a word of gratitude.

Because I so rarely experienced good manners from my parents, and the children around me were cruel and obnoxious (as kids often are), I don't have some idealized sense that the world was a better place way back when. If I could choose between now and an era from the past, I think I'd be pretty indifferent to whatever the cultural landscape was regarding how people treated one another or the conditions we live in. Grudgingly, I'd have to say that we probably are better off now world-wide as a species than we have been for quite some time in terms of material quality of living and the potential to control health, food supply, and energy resources.

While there are a lot of problems with resource management and the environment, our ability to deal with them is much greater than ever before. Yes, people are starving and suffering all over the world in various places, but that was happening at every stage of human history. The difference now is that we are more aware of it than before. It used to be that people died from disease, war and starvation somewhere else on the globe and we had no idea what was going on. Now, we know every detail and have the technology to intervene in at least some cases. So, if I could choose any year or time to live in, I guess I'd choose now, but mainly because I can't find it in myself to idealize the past, no matter how much I'd like to be able to do so.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Decorations 2008

The wooden "Merry Christmas" sign was a present from my husband a long time ago as was the clear candy dish (and the almond roca wrapped in gold in the dish). He also procured the Simpsons Christmas mugs. The acorn candles actually came from my brother-in-law in more cordial days.

Note: Any picture can be seen in a larger version by clicking on it.

Every year around this time, the web is full of pictures of elegantly appointed decorations in homes that resemble none that I have ever stepped foot in. That's not to say that such homes do not exist. I'm sure they do belong to people who have figured out a way to live life in perfectly color coordinated, immaculate, perfectly lit houses that do not require trash cans, power outlets, cables, cords, or most common electronic household items. I'm sure of the latter because those things are always absent from those gorgeous houses with their perfect holiday decor.

This paper tree was a gift from my friend the wombat stuffer last year. He sent it to me along with a bunch of other goodies after listening to me complain for ages about all the things I didn't or couldn't have in Japan. My students think the tree is very cute. I think it's a wonderful reminder of friendship.

So, every year, I drag out my box of ragtag, hodgepodge, mixed up Christmas decorations and attempt to adorn my apartment in an aesthetically pleasing manner. They may not look perfect, but almost all of them are reminders of thoughtfulness, consideration, generosity and kindness on the part of others.

The gold candles and the Santa candle holder were gifts from the CH. The gold candles smell wonderful, like holly and berries. They're the last of huge box of gorgeous candles the CH got me and I refuse to burn them because I want to remember their scent and the larger gift they came with. The snowman between the candles were from the wombat stuffer. It reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes as well as my good friend the stuffer.

So, my decorations may not be perfect or impressive, but they make me happy, and they put me in the right spirit.

The round tree candle holder was also from the CH. I love candles. It's a beautiful holder, but you can't really tell from this picture. The Skull plushie gets a blue Santa cap at this time of year.

Today, I went out and bought bags for student baked goodies offerings this year. I also mixed up a huge quantity of peanut butter cookie dough and froze discs of it for (near) future cookie making.

The CH gave me the plates, holders, candles and wooden NOEL train a long time ago. The lights are actually new. I bought them from Amazon Japan and didn't realize they were musical lights. Fortunately, there's a switch to turn off the music.

In past years, I've often waited for the spirit to motivate me, but this year I decided to make make the spirit on my own. I'm hoping it sticks with me for the duration.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Absolutely Inauthentic Chicken Pulao

One of my favorite Indian dishes is chicken biryani. Prior to coming to Japan, I had never sampled Indian food because I was born in a rural area and there were no ethnic restaurants in the area during most of the time I lived there. In fact, there wasn't even a Chinese place within reasonable distance of my home until a few years before I moved to California and married.

I've had biryani at several Indian places in Japan and though it is often different, it's always been good. Unfortunately, it is also quite expensive, so I rarely have it from restaurants these days. Now that my income is about 1/3 of what it was when I worked full-time, I have to be mindful of these things.

I've been trying to create something close to the biryani I enjoyed at restaurants for some time and have been messing around with a chicken pulao recipe on Quick Indian Cooking for months and months trying to get it to come out somewhere in the neighborhood of the tasty dishes I've had from the kitchens of actual Indian cooks. I made the recipe pretty much as it was given at first, but I think none of the spices I can buy locally are fresh or potent enough to really do a good job. I've tinkered with it and finally come up with something I believe works with the quality and type of spices one can buy in Tokyo. By the way, the reason this is pulao and not biryani is that the rice is cooked with everything else. In biryani, it is cooked separately. If you're interested in authentic Indian cuisine, then I strongly recommend Quick Indian Cooking. The recipes are excellent and easy.

My recipe is quite good, though it certainly is not easy. This is probably the 7th or 8th time I've made this dish and this is the last version. I'm quite pleased with it. The tomato paste really brought something to it and I think this was the best mix of spices considering my limits in terms of freshness and options.

Absolutely Inauthentic Chicken Pulao

for marinade and meat:
  • 2 cups low fat yogurt
  • 1/4 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 small garlic cloves (or 1 big fat one)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. coarse black pepper
  • 2 large raw chicken breasts (1/2 breasts, actually) cut into bite-size pieces
for cooking:
  • 1/4 inch fresh ginger
  • 2 small cloves garlic (or 1 big fat one)
  • 1 cinnamon stick broken into 4 pieces
  • 1.5 star anise (mine are fragmented such that all the points are broken off, so about 8 "tips")
  • 2 small bay leaves (or 1 large one - though I prefer 2 small)
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste (in Japan, you can buy this in individual packets with 1 tbsp. in each)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. hot garam masala (use regular if you're sensitive to hot spices)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 large thinly sliced onions (or 3 small ones)
  • 2 cups uncooked rice
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • vegetable oil (any unflavored oil) or ghee (clarified butter) as needed (I used Canola oil - but I bet ghee would be tastier and give it that restaurant greasiness)
  • 1 very small diced green pepper (optional)
  • cashews (optional, as garnish)
Marinade instructions:
Put the yogurt into a bowl with a lid. Add the salt and pepper. Blitz all of the garlic and ginger in a small bowl food processor (or mince the garlic and grate the ginger). Add half of the ginger and garlic to the marinade and set the other half aside to use in cooking. Whisk the spices into the yogurt. Add the chicken, cover with lid, and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours to overnight.

Cooking instructions:
Add about 1-2 tbsp. oil to cover the bottom of a large, deep skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat then fry the bay leaves, cardamom pods, star anise, cumin seeds and cinnamon stick pieces until they become fragrant. Create a little free space in the pan and add the ginger and garlic that you previously set aside. Fry the fresh spices until they are aromatic and lightly brown. Be careful not to burn any of the spices. If they start to cook too quickly, turn down the heat.

Add the sliced onions to the spices and stir. Cook the onions until they are golden brown and translucent. They should reduce in size to about half their original volume as you cook. If you want green peppers, add the diced peppers and cook them about halfway through the cooking of the onions. The peppers don't have to be soft, but they should be a little wilted before you move on to adding the chicken.

Push all of the vegetables and spices to one side of the pan. Move the pan off center on the burner such that the vegetables and spices aren't getting much of the main heat from where they have been pushed to the side. Add the chicken and yogurt marinade to the empty side of the pan. Stir the turmeric into the yogurt/chicken mixture. Cook with medium to high heat until slightly browned. A lot of the moisture from the yogurt will boil off, but all of it does not have to. Add the chicken stock, hot garam masala, and tomato paste. Stir these in gently and carefully until they are dissolved. Allow this to simmer for at least 15 minutes, longer is okay, but if too much liquid boils off, you'll need to add in some water to make sure there is enough moisture for cooking the rice.

Add the uncooked rice, stir to distribute the rice evenly and cook over medium heat until it just starts to bubble. Cover the pan and turn the heat down as low as possible while still allowing the dish to simmer. Allow to cook until most of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender. This should take around 40 minutes, but it depends on the kind of rice you use and the type of pan. You'll have to test the rice for doneness by tasting it or cutting it with a fork.

Note: You can salt this at any stage of the cooking or wait and add salt when you eat it. In my experience, it will need to be salted again at some point. The salt from the marinade will not be enough.

For serving, I usually take tongs or chopsticks and pick out all of the bits of whole spices just so we don't have to take them out as we eat or don't accidentally bite into a bit of star anise or a cardamom pod. Also, I don't want stronger spices permeating the finished dish in select spots (esp. the cinnamon) when the leftovers are stored in the refrigerator so I like to get them out before storing.

I think this would also be good if about a handful of raisins were added at the same time as the rice, but my husband doesn't like raisins in these types of dishes so I've never tried it (though all of the biryani I've ever had in restaurants has included raisins). Also, the pictured version does not have green peppers in it, but I have used green pepper in this dish before. It's good, but you have to be careful not to overdo it or the green pepper flavor will be too strong and dominate the dish.

Finally, keep in mind that my spices are crap. I think they're old because most of them are not typical in Japanese cuisine and spend a lot of time on store shelves before being sold. If you are using better quality spices, you may need to scale back to avoid making things too intense.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Sometimes I read bulletin boards devoted to the interests of women. One group of such boards is located at iVillage. The topics of greatest interest to me are the ones that deal with relationships. Lately, I've been looking into a topic that the CH and I have discussed between ourselves as well as with students. That topic is "emotional affairs."

For the rare reader (of course, all of my readers are pretty "rare" in that there aren't that many of them) who doesn't know what an emotional affair is, it's when two people are in love, but do not physically consummate their relationship with illicit sexual congress. With the potential to contact strangers from every hemisphere on the globe as well as friends and acquaintances from down the block through Internet-based methods, more people are probably having emotional affairs than ever before.

Most of the time, these relationships consist of people having intense conversations, flirtatious text exchanges, and sharing deep levels of emotional intimacy. Often, the depth of relationship is measured by information shared with the "other man/woman" that cannot be shared with one's spouse. The "other" extracts satisfaction from knowing they are chosen to share in secrets to which the spouse is denied access as well as the recipient of compliments and appealing innuendo.

On the message boards, people will ask if what they are doing is cheating because it is not physical or they ask if they are justified in their actions because their spouse is failing to fulfill a need. The latter is often the rationale for actual physical affairs. That is, if a person fails to meet the sexual needs of his or her partner, the deprived spouse justifies an affair by citing that failure as the motive for cheating.

My views of relationships in terms of how other people conduct them are pretty broad. My feeling is that all commitments have to be defined by those who are taking part in them. If people want to have "open marriages" where they are free to engage in sexual behavior with others, that's fine as long as they both freely embrace the idea and all latitudes are applied equally. I would say the same applies to emotional affairs or whatever else people want to do.

The only thing I think is out of bounds in any relationship, is hiding a relationship of any kind with a third party from your partner. If you hide it, then you are doing so because you know that you're operating outside of the concept of your commitment to the relationship that the two of you decided upon or that you both generally feel is the norm for your culture. One of the reasons why I have no problems with my husband's friendships with other women, including an ex-girlfriend whom he was once deeply in love with, is that no aspect is ever hidden from me. Of course, I also trust him completely, but that trust is confirmed and upheld by the transparency with which he conducts other relationships.

I believe cheating is the ultimate act of selfishness and cowardice. In all but a very few rare cases, people cheat in order to keep their cake nice and safe which having a snack on the side. If you're unhappy in your relationship, you have three choices. One is that you work on the aspects of your relationship that make you unhappy. Two is that you formally break up or divorce. Three is that you recognize the shortcomings of your relationship in meeting your needs and be upfront with your spouse about your need to go outside your shared concept of your commitment to one another and seek satisfaction. The third option is rarely exercised, but I believe that if you feel you have to grant yourself the latitude to have an affair (emotional or otherwise) to satisfy yourself, then you have to offer your spouse that same possible avenue of satisfaction. The main reason people don't pursue these options and decide to have secret affairs is that they're trying to selfishly have everything for themselves - faithful, supportive spouse and torrid affair with the other man/woman.

While I accept any sort of open relationship among other people, I couldn't accept such a thing myself because that isn't the sort of concept the CH and I share. We're both of the mind that mind, body, and soul are shared to the extent possible between us. However, our deep devotion and commitment to sharing as much as possible has been the driving force behind my being open-minded about how other people conduct their relationships. I realize that the intensity of our bond is unusual and odd compared to most people's relationships. In fact, I've been made aware on multiple occasions that our devotion is pretty freakishly intense. If we can be unconventional, then I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't say it was okay for other people have whatever arrangements suit them. However, I don't think many relationships are served favorably by deception, double standards, or lying.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Adventures in "New" Used Furniture

There's a style of low profile office chair which I ran across at a second-hand items shop about 6 months ago. It was black and only about 3000 yen (about $30) and looked like it'd suit the CH's need for a replacement chair at his office. Unfortunately, my rickety old chair, which I had repaired 3 times and extended the life of for another year and a half, finally gave up the ghost and I ended up with the chair intended for my husband. (He was in need of a new chair because his company's president replaced everyone's comfortable chair with nicer looking, but very uncomfortable chairs).

Since that time, I've been checking the same shop every time I ride my bicycle past it hoping that another one would show up. This particular type of chair is well-suited to Japanese apartments because it is light and has a low back so it doesn't seem so large in a small space. It's also wider and has good lower back support and is more comfortable than most conventional office chairs.

My new chair, restored to working condition.

Well, today was the day another one of these chairs showed up. The odd thing was that it wasn't there when I rode past it to the supermarket, but it was there 10 minutes later on my way back home. This one only cost 1890 yen (about $18) so it was a steal at that price. The only bad point was that this one is red and showed a bit more wear and tear. It's a little dingy, but I figured I could reupholster it. My husband can take the black one to his office and I'll use the red one.

So, that would be all well and good if that was the end of the story. Of course, then this wouldn't be an "adventure". The used items shop is about a 7-minute walk from my apartment and charges for delivery so I decided to just push the bike I was on with my right hand and drag the chair along the sidewalk with my left hand. It was noisy, and a little troublesome, especially with my bad back, but I got it home and was very pleased.

I put my groceries away, chatted with my sister a bit on Skype, and then decided to try out the chair. When I sat in it, it leaned forward any time I did. It was as if it was hinged. I turned it over and saw that two of the four bolts were missing. The front ones were there but very loose, and the ones from the back were gone. Given how loose the ones in the front were, my guess was that they were shaken out during the journey rather than absent all along.

The main problem with losing the screws is that the base of the chair is very thin so you can't replace them easily with other bolts. They'd have to be exactly the right length and width. Also, Tokyo is not exactly overflowing with hardware shops with a plethora of bolts for every need. In fact, I have no idea where to find a specific size bolt. Given the difficulties in replacing them, I though the best course of action was to retrace my steps and hope to find them.

Now, if I lived in the isolated countryside or in some quiet suburb, this wouldn't be a big deal, but this is Tokyo. There are people and cars everywhere. To add more fun to finding the lost screws, ginkgo leaves are all over the ground and blowing around. That means there are chances that they could be covered, swept up by the ever vigilant shop keepers sweeping several times a day in front of their stores, or ran over by a car. Yeah, I crossed a major street (Ome Kaido Avenue) full of traffic on my way home.

Still, I gamely retraced my steps and found one of the screws, sans its nut, at the curb where I crossed the street. I was actually surprised to find one at all and pocketed it. When the light changed, I crossed the street carefully scanning the crosswalk. However, I figured I'd be screwed if one fell in the street because tons of cars drive over the intersection every minute. It could be thrown, crushed, or stuck in some one's tire if it happened to fall on the crosswalk.

After walking all the way back to the shop, I came up empty on the second screw and decided I'd give up after one more pass over the crosswalk. Strangely enough, I found it lying in the middle of the street undamaged and with its nut intact. I must say that I felt really lucky to recover them under the circumstances.

Of course, my entire experience was two parts luck (finding the chair, then finding both lost screws) and one part bad luck (the loose screws). I can't believe that the people who assembled the chair were so careless as to leave the screws so loose that simply pulling it along the sidewalk for 3 minutes made them fall out. I guess it could have been worse. All 4 of them could have fallen out and the chair could have fallen apart before I got it home.

Note: This chair is obviously the Stockholm office chair sold by Walmart in the U.S. There are no Walmarts in Japan so I have no idea where this came from. I've never seen one like it in any shop. If anyone else knows where these can be bought in Japan, I'd appreciate knowing. I did find a Japanese version of this style of chair called a "Roco desk chair" (ロコデスクチェアー), but it's not the same exactly, though it still has the appealing low profile style.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Most people think of faith as something you have in a deity. However, faith applies to all areas of our lives. One can have faith in other people, in the future, nature or in technology. We can even have faith in our routines and the routines of others who interact with us in our daily lives. More often than not, we don't even think about our faith in such things as long as it isn't shattered by some event. The lack of faith in many of the aforementioned things, incidentally, results in cynicism.

For a person who has grown up under far less than optimal circumstances (i.e., me), sometimes it's very difficult to have faith in anything. Lately, I've been trying to build faith in some things in order to calm my all too frequent fears about the future. One of the things I want to have faith in is the idea that my financial life is going to be fine. When you grow up poor, it's easy to fear financial ruin, especially when your parents were constantly living at the brink of ruin and made no effort to hide their anxiety about money when you were too young to rationalize that anxiety and could only internalize it on a pure emotional level.

Since the nature of my work situation is unpredictable, I have to actively work at keeping my faith in financial security alive. I try to boost this idea with an underlying faith in two other things. One is that karma will eventually repay me for the kindness and generosity that I extend to others. The other, much greater faith I'm trying to nurture is in the idea that there is "enough" work, money, opportunity, etc. for everyone and that, if one does not try and grab more than one's necessary share of such things, these things will naturally flow one's way. I try to see jobs as a river that sometimes flows hard and strong my way and sometimes weak and slow, but I want to have faith that there will never be less than I need. However, I also have to be careful not to confuse what I "need" with what I "want".

Recently, I referred someone to my former company who I knew without a shred of doubt would be good at the job. Before making this referral, I had the nagging idea that doing so might end up resulting in my getting less freelance work because I had benefited in the past from the fact that my successors had been troublesome employees. However, the person I was referring deserved the security and my former boss deserved to work with someone who I knew would be a delight to work with. Initially, it looked as if setting aside my fears and doing "the right thing" was also going to end up rewarding me as I was told I'd be asked to do a lot more work than usual. In fact, one of the Japanese staff members and my former boss came by my apartment and this appeal was made in person.

Over the last several days, changes to the plan have been made due to the ambitions of a particular Japanese staff member. Most, if not all, of the work that seemed to be on the horizon is evaporating rapidly and it is somewhat depressing. To cope with this (very likely) letdown, I've been trying to convince myself that I may have merely wanted this work rather than needed it and that things are coming together as they are to make sure more important needs than mine are being met. That is, possibly the new staff that were hired needed the jobs they're getting more than I needed the extra income. Still, my faith that good acts go rewarded and in the ebb and flow of that river of opportunity have been rattled a bit. However, I was incapable of making any other choice. My values would not allow me to protect my own interests at the expense of another and I still have faith that those who do so ultimately do not prosper.

Sometimes I wonder if my attitude about taking as much as I need rather than as much as I want and making the choices which are "right" rather than selfish is what separates me from people who society views as truly successful. That is, if I were the type of person who protected my own interests first and foremost, I might have been wealthier and/or risen to a higher position in my work. I'm sure that one element of ambition, besides a need for status and the approval of others, is a certain drive which compels you to get as much as you can, even when it is far more than you actually need.

The CH has often said that we should live our lives bearing in mind what the world would be like if everyone lived the way that we do. If everyone grabbed as much work as possible so they could be a little more financially comfortable and others had less opportunity than they needed because of that person's desire, then the world would be an imbalanced place. Of course, this applies to all thing from material possessions to food to energy to work. When we take what we need rather than what we want, we leave more for others to take what they need as well. If everyone lived that way, I'm sure the world would be a better place. I have pretty solid faith in that idea.