According to the Washington Post, Jewish people are now identifying as more cultural, less religious. I guess you could say that describes me a little better, but not really.
I am Jewish by ethnicity. I cannot be anything else. I have traced my family to a town called “Volkovisk,” which is apparently in Belarus, but the Ellis Island records don’t specify a country, and anyway, we’re not “White Russians” – we’re Jewish. I don’t know anything about my father’s side of the family other than that they were also Jewish, so I am 100% ethnically Jewish. I cannot be Polish (though I said I was growing up, because I thought I was), I cannot be Russian or Belarusian. I am Jewish. (Note that this is not the late 1800s, and although I am genetically related to other Jewish people, “Jewish” is not a race – I tick white on forms, I pass as white, and I am white. I am white by race, but I am Jewish by ethnicity.)
But I am not Jewish by religion. I suppose I was for the first few years of my life, but I was raised Unitarian Universalist. Now I am an atheist, and somewhat aspiritual and areligious. I just have no interest in religion, really. Plenty of UUs are also atheist, but I am not even UU anymore. At any rate, I am certainly not Jewish by religion, and was never raised as such. I have been known to celebrate Hanukkah (but also the bigger December holiday), and I love charoset and matzo, but that’s where my celebration of Jewish holidays ends.
Nobody needs to know this stuff but me, but given the Washington Post article, I had been thinking about it, and I wanted to write it down. For more on the “who is a Jew” stuff, see Judaism 101.
I deactivated my blog after I got back from Japan because I was applying for some jobs. I’m finally all settled with that situation, so I decided to reactivate it. There are a few things I’ve been wanting to write about in a longer form than social media allows for, so it felt like it was time to reactivate this. I don’t think anybody reads it anymore, but it’s still my little place on the web to write things, at least for now.
I decided to change the theme, too – as much as I loved the Japan theme, I’m not there anymore. I don’t know that I love this new theme so much, though it does have some interesting Tumblr-like post type options. We’ll see how the design goes, too.
As I board the plane for DC (assuming I have timed the scheduled post right), here’s a picture of me from late March 2012, and mid-March 2013. It’s almost embarrassing to show the first part, I think I look better in the second. Funny that I ended up wearing nearly the same thing both times, though! Thanks to my boss for putting these two together.
I haven’t been able to go out of my apartment today. I was going to go to a cat cafe one more time, but when I went out to go to 7-11, I wanted to cry. This may be the last time I ever see this corner of Tokyo, where I have lived for the past 13 months. So I decided to just stay home, and keep my ￥500 off loyalty card as a souvenir. Of course, this makes the day quite long – I woke up at 10am for the inspection guy, and now it’s just past 6pm and I still have forever until it’s time to go (tomorrow at noon). But doing anything outside tugs at my heartstrings too much, so I am staying home.
I’ve lived in Tokyo for 13 months now. Trying to reflect on that time jams up the cogs of my brain. My apartment is clean (although the inspection guy told me to throw away the hangers, but only the hangers, and barely looked at anything else…?), my bags are packed. I’m not sure what to do with my final trash and recycling, because neither of those get picked up on Mondays…I’ll have to figure that out. But you see, I’m talking about logistics…I don’t know how I feel.
Of course, I’ll come back to Japan, it’s become too much a part of my life to never return. My wife wants to see Kyoto and Nara, and I can’t wait to take her there someday. So I’ll be back…but not to live. At least, not that I can foresee now. But I think I got the expat bug out of my system. I always wanted to live somewhere other than Washington DC, and I have certainly had my fill. I’m ready to go home. I’m not sure I’m ready to leave.
I had to throw so many things away. Nobody took anything I put in a box marked ￥0, apparently there is just not much of a “donation culture” here. So I put it all out with the burnable trash, and fortunately they took it all, instead of leaving the non-burnables behind. I did sell my toaster to a recycle shop for ￥500, about 1/6th of what I paid for it.
I can’t even think about the friends I’m leaving behind. I hardly had any friends for the first six months or so, but once I made friends, I really enjoyed spending time with them. Some have promised to come visit in the US, but then again, some friends from home promised to visit me here, and only one actually did. I am genuinely glad for Facebook, which will help me keep connected with friends in Japan, as it has kept me connected back home for this past year.
Let’s do a rundown:
Will miss: Reliable trains, convenience stores, cat products everywhere, kawaii everything, Engrish, cherry blossoms, vending machines (that are everywhere and sell everything), the Sky Tree watching me everywhere I go, accurate timed redelivery of packages, seasonal flavors, city life and walking everywhere, small earthquakes.
Won’t miss: My tiny kitchen and inability to cook in it, my tiny bathroom and low-water toilet, getting run over by people riding bikes on sidewalks, holier-than-thou fellow foreigners, being asked my favorite Japanese food and if I can use chopsticks, boring bread, shared internet connection (frequently making video chat/streaming/calls impossible), worrying about the last train, my own illiteracy, paying for laundry, sleeping alone every night.
To be expanded…
So I did end up traveling all over northern Japan in February! Here are my photos.
First, some good ones from Sapporo. You can see the rest here.
Hokutosei, overnight train from Ueno to Sapporo
Sapporo Snow Festival, holding an ice carving
Next we go to Sendai! See the rest of the photos here.
Looking toward the Port of Sendai from ARC Observatory
In my hotel room overlooking Sendai Station
And the final trip of February was to Nagano! The rest of the photos can be seen here.
Posing with snow monkeys
I’m excited about some upcoming travel in the month of February! In just over a week, I’ll be taking the Hokutosei sleeper train to Sapporo for the Sapporo Snow Festival. I heard about this festival a great many years ago, and I figured I would never actually get to go. It was just something on TV, a world away, how could I ever go? But I’m going! It will be my first time to another of the main islands – my entire time in Japan so far has been spent on Honshu, the biggest island. I’m excited to go to Hokkaido, even if I will be freezing the entire time! (Don’t worry, I will be dressing appropriately!) After that I will go see someone I know in Sendai for an overnight – my first time in Tohoku! And then I’m also going to go to Nagano to go see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Yaen Koen! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to – there are a lot of other places I haven’t been yet either, most notably Osaka, but also Kyushu and Shikoku…but I did some reading and asked around and it’s pretty obvious: snow monkeys are where it’s at! I will certainly be returning to Japan in the years to come, and Osaka etc. will be easy to visit then. But the snow monkeys are rather off the beaten path – you can’t get any closer by vehicle than a mile away, you have to walk the last mile – so the ideal time to visit is while I’m living here! There is a nifty one-day tour from Tokyo that goes to see them and includes a really old temple, but not only is it held only on days when I have to work, but it’s “intended for overseas travelers only” and residents of Japan (which I am, I guess) cannot participate! So I will be making my way up there on my own, either in one day, or as an overnight trip to make it a little easier. We’ll see. Anyway, I’m looking forward to exploring some new parts of Japan in february!
I went to India for the India Deaf Expo 2012 in Mumbai, thanks to an invitation from my friend Arti. She was a Duskin Leadership in Japan trainee in 2010, and we originally met in Tsukuba when I did my internship there. She invited me to come to India anytime, but I never thought I would actually get to go! I will admit I was not well prepared for the trip, because I was so busy leading up to it. But I still had a really fun time, thanks to the help of many new Indian friends!
My flight was on Air China, with stops in Shanghai and Chengdu. The Shanghai stop was fine except for when I discovered you are supposed to have a transit visa, and I didn’t have one, and I didn’t have my onward boarding pass…fortunately they let me through since I was continuing to Mumbai the same day. (I later found out there are now visa-free transit options, but I didn’t know that when I was standing in the immigration line in Shanghai wondering if they were going to send me home or something.) I hung out in the Shanghai airport’s domestic departures section for a few hours, changed ¥40,000 to rupees (which weren’t available at Narita), discovered the Kindle’s experimental web browser won’t work in China (“due to local regulations”), had some soup, waited around for our plane to arrive (it was late from wherever it was coming from), and finally got on the plane to Chengdu, which departed an hour late.
Unfortunately, at Chengdu we had to clear immigration. I had thought I’d be sitting on the plane because the layover was only an hour and the flight number was the same, but as the onward flight was international, we all had to take everything off the plane, go through immigration, and hustle back on the plane. Fortunately there were Air China staff members to point us in the right direction, and I think all of us flying from Shanghai to Mumbai managed to hustle around in about an hour. Immigration at Mumbai was also quite easy, the hardest part was finding a pen! There was a Middle Eastern guy with pens visible in his shirt pocket, but he didn’t speak any English (much to the consternation of the airport staff trying to help him with his forms) and just kind of glared at me when I gestured for a pen. I finally made it through, met up with Arti and her friend Rohita, and took a cab to the Sea Palace Hotel where my Japanese friends Sayaka and Arisa were waiting for me to arrive so they could go to sleep!
The next morning, the three of us took a cab over to the Deaf Expo. Of course, having no idea where that was, we agreed to a ₹300 fare to the site. Whoops…turns out that, by the meter, the fare would have been about ₹50! Ah well, it was an adventure. Arti was onstage when we got there, but Rohita and Arti’s mom helped us get our registration packets and get seated. We watched some of the lectures, which I partially understood – ISL has some overlap with ASL, so I wasn’t completely lost the entire time! When it was time for lunch, we went upstairs and into a massive throng of people. I am not a big fan of crowds in general, and the type where you are physically unable to move is my least favorite! I finally got through, but it turned out Sayaka and Arisa hadn’t paid for meals, so I had to eat on my own. The food was really good, but I couldn’t find any water, so by the end my mouth was dying! After lunch, we went back downstairs to watch more lectures, a performance by John Maucere, and some early rounds of the Miss Deaf India contest. In the evening, we went over to the famous Chowpatty area and had dinner at Sukh Sagar Retaurant. The food was good and the upstairs area was air conditioned, but the bathroom was pretty dirty! After that we had kulfi at a place that’s been there since 1960, and then took a cab back to our hotel in Colaba. Rather than trying to convey the exact place, we just had the guy drop us off at the Gateway to India, which was just down the road from our hotel – and we took a few minutes to look around there, too.
On the morning of the 30th, we stopped at the Starbucks at the Taj Hotel. It’s only the second Starbucks in all of India, and it only opened in October. I was a bit surprised by the security guards out front, but we were there for one thing only: the free wifi! You have to buy a coffee to get the login info, of course…although I bought two and was still tired! After spending a little more time there than we intended, we took a cab back over to the Deaf Expo. The day proceeded much as it had the day before, with performances, lectures, and so forth. I enjoyed chatting with Dr. Mathur from Gallaudet, and watching some of the talent performances for Miss Deaf India (mostly dancing). I tried to reduce my stress level by avoiding the crowds this time – there was a tea break in the afternoon, and we went upstairs and discovered the same crushing crowds as the day before. I decided I didn’t really need tea, and went back downstairs to the auditorium, where I chatted with some Indian guys who are current students at Gallaudet, and generally had a much better time than I would have upstairs in the crowd! My efforts to reduce stress were apparently insufficient, though, because I ended up having a meltdown in the evening. I couldn’t find my Kindle, and the stress from before I left, the traveling, the lack of sleep while there, the new environment, and the crowds all added up to me crying like a baby. An usher brought me to one of the emcees, and I tearfully explained what was going on…and that my biggest fear was that someone would find the Kindle but keep it for themselves. He promised to make an announcement at the next break, and I sat up front trying to stop crying while Rohita tried to calm me down (Arti was backstage at this point, I think, but I’m not sure). The emcee made an impassioned plea on my behalf while I watched and those nearby started looking over at the sobbing American girl. A buzz rose up across the auditorium, and I couldn’t tell for a few minutes if my Kindle had been located or not. Then I saw a flash of pink and I knew it was my Kindle case! I flew out of my chair, waving an ILY sign, and reached across the catwalk to take it from the guy who had found it. I was so relieved, but so embarrassed at the same time, ha! The guy who found it ended up being a Christian, so in a photo of the two of us together, he had me cross the pointer finger of the ILY sign with the opposite pointer finger, making a cross…never saw that before.
After that, we said goodbye to Rohita, and had to hustle back to the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat (slow service meant the eating was very quick!), and get over to the train station for our trip on the Konkan Kanya Express to Goa. The train was supposed to leave at 11:05pm, but it didn’t even arrive at the station until around midnight! There were about 30 of us going from the Expo down south, so we decided to screw the assigned berths and all stick together in one car. I can only imagine what the 20 or so hearing people in the car thought of us! After a few hours of chatting, I fell asleep on an upper berth. When I woke in the morning around 9am, I learned that we had been stopped for much of the night, and would therefore be getting in late. According to the timetable linked above, we should have arrived at Thivim at 9:06am. Instead we didn’t get there until mid-afternoon! So we took a cab to the Riverside Regency Resort and relaxed for a bit – we were especially interested in showers, after spending some 14+ hours on the train! Unfortunately, the hotel was not as luxurious as we expected – no soap or shampoo, the water didn’t get very hot, and the lights kept going out. The first time it happened, I was in the windowless bathroom taking a shower, so I got to finish that in the dark, fun! But the weather was nice at least – Goa is beautiful. We grabbed dinner in Mapusa and then went over to Anjuna Beach, home of hippies and “Goa trance” music, to ring in the new year with a bunch of Arti’s friends, who were quickly becoming friends of our own. One guy got drunk and upset, but for the most part we had a very chill time and enjoyed the fireworks at midnight.
On the first day of the new year, we took public buses from Baga to Old Goa by way of Calangute and Panaji. We went to several of the World Heritage Sites there, but I must admit my favorite was the ruins of St. Augustine’s – I absolutely love history! The other churches, like the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral, were several hundred years old as well, but they are intact and well-kept…I liked the heavily-collapsed St. Augustine’s better. I like to see the history. Imagining the religious services that took place in a hall in the old convent is my idea of fun on vacation! We also had lunch with several of Arti’s friends again, and I bought a kurta in an attempt to keep off the sun, but it was too late, I was already pink! Our whole group, eight of us, took the bus back to Panaji, and then walked over to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. After seeing that, we went for tea, and I ate a pepper that must have been close to a million Scoville units – at least it seemed that way, and they do have them that hot in India! Our friends had to leave then to catch the last bus back to wherever they were staying, but Arti, Sayaka, Arisa and I went on an evening river cruise that had both cultural dance performances and a chance for audience members to get up and dance. It was only ₹200 per person so I paid for everybody, as a Happy New Year gift. (I would have paid for all eight of us if they hadn’t gone home!)
We relaxed and took it slow in the morning on the 2nd, and eventually headed over to Calangute Beach where I had to carry my rolling suitcase over the sand, yikes. After going down the beach a little ways we settled in at Sea Face, a little shack that, well, faces the sea. I mostly hid out under the shack while Sayaka, Arti, and Arisa played in the waves; I did inadvertently get my feet wet when the Arabian Sea rushed up while I was down there taking a picture. But for the most part I took pictures from afar, relaxed, and stayed out of the sun! When Arti’s friends showed up after a couple of hours, we ordered food (much to the relief of the Sea Face people, who kept asking me when we would order), and I got the chicken cashew masala. It tasted good, but it was a bad idea…more on that later. So we hung out, chatted, and generally had a wonderful time on the beach in the nice warm weather. Finally it was time to go, and we got back in a cab and (after some misdirection) made our way to the airport. Arisa, Sayaka, and I flew to Delhi; Arti took an overnight bus back to Mumbai. We were met at the airport by a car from the hostel, and even though the room’s heater was broken, they gave us lots of blankets, and there was toilet paper and wifi! So of course we all updated Facebook and emailed for a bit before falling asleep.
Unfortunately, I awoke at 4:30am on the 3rd in a most undignified (but dramatic!) fashion. I will spare you the details, but remind you that I had some chicken about 14 hours earlier, the first time I had non-vegetarian food in India. Suffice to say that I was glad the shower water got hot, and I had to hang things up to dry. I fell back asleep and woke up again around 8:30am. Sayaka and Arisa went upstairs to get breakfast, which was included, but I didn’t feel like it; they kindly brought me a banana which was about all I could manage. We managed to exchange messages with a friend of a friend, who we had met briefly at the Deaf Expo, and he came over to the hotel with another friend to pick us up to go to Agra. We went to the bus station by the Delhi Metro, and on the train I had another incident, sigh. Fortunately it was not as dramatic, and I dealt with it in a public restroom and we were on our way.
The bus ride to Agra took about five hours. It was only 200km, but we stopped so much that it took forever. As a result, we got there and were very pressed for time. We begged the auto-rickshaw driver to hurry, but for some reason he seemed to take a very winding route anyway, not that we knew any better. For some reason, he deposited us unceremoniously at the South Gate, so we had to run through the market, only to be denied entry through the tiny door. After some begging, we were told that the West Gate would not close for another 15 minutes (at least I think – all I understood was “15 minutes”) and a local boy, who was part of a group quite amused by two Indians, two Japanese, and an American (all signing frantically) running around, guided us around to the West Gate. But we were turned away there as well, and no amount of pleading did any good. Somehow we ended up in a police car and we thought we were going to be escorted inside after all, but then we were shooed out of it and some other tourists (Indians) got in instead. I really have no idea what was going on at this point…only that we absolutely were not being allowed in. Greatly dejected, we walked along the west wall to the river, where you can see the tomb a bit. There were monkeys eating flower garlands along the way, and some fallen bricks from somewhere, but it was cold and getting dark so we just hurried along and scurried down to the bank for the best pictures. We were not the only ones in this situation, as some white women (in Indian clothes, wearing bindi) also came down onto the bank, and one seemed quite upset and another said something about “next time.”
After taking our pictures, we headed over to the taxi stand. All manner of conveyances were there, including camels, but we ended up in a horse-drawn two-wheeled cart! The driver took us to his preferred tourist trap to catch a bus back to Delhi, but our Indian friends told him absolutely not, take us to the usual bus station. So he did, and we got on for another five-hour bus ride. Unfortunately there were holes in the windows for some reason, so it was quite cold! (I also had to use a squat toilet at a rest stop along the way, but it was surprisingly clean.) I slept most of the way back, though, and was awakened when we got to Delhi. Standing outside at midnight was not my idea of fun, but our Indian friends (both male; this is relevant because we are in Delhi) got us an auto-rickshaw fairly quickly and brought us to the apartment of one of Arti’s friends. We spent the night there, but unfortunately they’d had no money for gas, so I spent the night freezing, mostly sitting up (one queenish-size bed for Sayaka, Arisa, and myself, and not much room), barely sleeping, wrapped in a single blanket!
In the morning on the 4th, we made a beeline for the airport. We had wanted to go shopping, but it was so cold that we decided to just go where we knew it would be warm! Unfortunately the auto-rickshaw ride to get there was freezing but we made it to the domestic terminal. We flew back to Mumbai, and Sayaka and Arisa took a cab back to the hotel (their flight wasn’t until the following afternoon) and I took one to the international terminal. You can only use the free bus service if you actually have a connecting flight, not if you just have a flight…sigh. When I got there I was afraid I wouldn’t be allowed in, because somebody said something about a time limit – you can only enter 2.5 hours before your flight, or something. I was exhausted and frustrated (but at least warmer, in Mumbai) and I was really worried, but they let me in and I did a little window shopping (and bought a few things) before flying back to Japan!
Because I had gotten my onward boarding pass in Mumbai, things were much easier when I got to Chengdu. Straight through immigration and back on the plane, then a few hours to kill in Shanghai. When I got back to Tokyo in the evening, I realized that the strangest thing had happened – what was once an unfamiliar land had become comfortable. I know how Japan works, there are vending machines, I can buy train tickets, it is clean and safe and familiar. India was a mystery to me, and if I had not been with Indian people almost the whole time, I would have been completely lost. I am so grateful to them for their hospitality and kindness! I do hope to return to India someday, I want to actually get into the Taj Mahal!
I haven’t written in forever, but in the past month I’ve barely thought about writing. I’m just too exhausted. I’ve been on the go pretty much since before Thanksgiving, with only half-days to myself in that entire time. I know the holidays are supposed to be busy, but this has been mostly work and social. I just haven’t even had time to breathe. And now I’m off to India, my flight leaves in less than 12 hours. I don’t want to go, frankly. I want to stay here and hide and sleep. I didn’t know this month was going to be so busy. I know I’ll have fun once I get there, but I really would love some time to myself. I think January 6 and 7 might be that time. I will have to boldly refuse social commitments, because that’s what’s been eating up my non-work time lately…I just need to say no and take time for myself!
But first I have a whirlwind, one-week tour of India to complete. Oh my!
Drain cleaner is an amazing thing. I have been dealing with an overflowing drain for weeks and weeks now, because I would forget whenever I was done with my shower, and it’s also hard to look up things like that sometimes. I have a Japanese “unit bath” which basically means the shower drains outside the tub itself, in what westerners think of as a dry area. Japanese people actually wash themselves in this area, hence the need for water to drain out of it; they then climb into the tub for a nice soak. I wash western-style, which is to say, standing in the tub; I bought a shower curtain to keep things outside the tub dry.
Anyway, the “dry” portion of the shower room kept flooding whenever I would shower. I have a hair trap there, and I kept it clean, and I would reach into the drain itself and pull stuff out, that had snuck past the hair trap, but still it kept getting worse and worse. What can I say, I have long hair…and the bathroom was nasty when I got here, so it probably wasn’t just mine, either. I didn’t particularly want to reach down there with tape on an unbent hanger, because loose hair is actually one of the things that grosses me out pretty badly. So I figured I would get drain cleaner eventually, but I kept putting it off.
Today I finally got off my butt and looked up what drain cleaner is called here, and went to the drugstore to get some. The “double the hair removing power” kind I found online was not available, but regular Pipeman (パイプマン) was, so I got that. I brought it home and dumped about a third of the bottle down the drain, then went out for a few hours. When I came back, I put a kettle on, and when it was hot I poured it down…instant draining!
That’s probably years and years of nasty hair buildup gone. I couldn’t be happier, I just wish I hadn’t waited so long!
Remember when Domino’s used to have a 30 minute guarantee, where if your pizza didn’t show up in 30 minutes, it was free? And remember how they got rid of that because drivers kept killing people in a race to beat the clock?
A couple of weeks ago, while my friend from New York was here, neither of us felt like going out, so we ordered pizza. For some reason, the delivery guy gave me a 500 yen coupon – I didn’t know why, but I held onto it! Tonight I didn’t feel like cooking, so I thought maybe I’d use that coupon and get a cheap pizza. The “
Forever Home Alone” special is a medium 2-topping and a can of soda for ¥1,399 and the coupon works on it, knocking the price down to just $11.19 at the current exchange rate – really cheap for delivery pizza in Japan! I had to add a side order to meet the delivery minimum (¥1,050) so I ended up with pizza, a can of soda, and some fries for ¥1,203. When I put the coupon in, it showed up as “delivery delay” – so that’s what that was for!
So I ordered the pizza, and it said delivery would be in 30 minutes. Sure, no problem! I figure it changes the estimated delivery time if it’s raining or a weekend. I glanced at the time just to see how long it actually took. 37 minutes after placing the order, the pizza was at my door, and I handed over cash and the coupon – not that he asked me for it, but I figured it was the right thing to do. And then…he produced another 500 yen “delivery delay” coupon for me!
Naturally, I will be ordering another pizza sometime, because this coupon gives me about 40% off – it is a major coupon. They’ll offer 10% off coupons on rainy days (they expire about 5 days later), but I’ve never taken advantage because it’s still too expensive. But shoot, I can get pizza for 500 yen off?! I will be doing this again! And if it takes more than 30 minutes next time…well, that’s the pizza cycle!