Thursday, August 25, 2005

East China Sea

I don't think culture shock is really the name for what life has been like for the month since I was last online. Culture shock seems to describe when you're disturbed by the jarring unfamiliarity of your surroundings, and although Japan is certainly a new experience, it doesn't feel like trying to get used to Saudi felt. That sort of hurt --- many days, I felt like the magician's assistant, trying to contort myself to fit into half of the magic box so that I would appear to have been sawed in half. This, though, living here, feels a lot like the way we all should have been living all along. Everyone, with the exception of some American base employees, is polite, to everyone else, all of the time. There's a slight hint of competitiveness, as we each try to demonstrate better manners. The cashiers in stores smile and bow and hand you your change with both hands (the way you present someone with a gift), and honestly it's as if a huge weight has been lifted from me; it's a true pleasure to perform the American bow (because we don't really know the social distinctions necessary to do a real bow, we've all been given cultural permission to use an abbreviated version that's like nodding your head taken one degree further) and to smile at everyone, to say "excuse me" as we make room for someone to pass in the aisle while shopping, to give pedestrians and the elderly the right of way. I don't find it confining at all, I find it very restful. The maps are good, the roads are well marked, and there aren't any "bad neighborhoods" to find yourself in, so I'm also confident about being able to go out and do things. Japan, oh, Japan is wonderful.

However, our "air freight" (which was supposed to be delivered in around 30 days) ended up being trucked to Travis Air Force base in California before it ever got airborn, although why this should have added an extra three weeks to the shipping time is still a mystery. So we ended up living on the contents of our suitcases and of the boxes we mailed ourselves from Kansas City before we left, for almost two months. It took a week to get television service; the only type available here is satellite, which is every bit as bad as the commercials for cable tell you. If it rains, we can't watch tv. It took three weeks to get connected to the internet, and as it works out, the only phone in the house that will work now is the one plugged into the computer. Meanwhile, no air freight meant no drum (for six weeks --- it was very hard), and no spices (it was almost impossible to think of things to cook that didn't call for anything but salt and pepper), and no tea pot. For 50 days, I boiled water in a sauce pan and poured it into a coffee cup with instant coffee. I like instant coffee; it was the sauce pan that was the problem. The sauce pan that was in our loaner kit here didn't have a lip, and sure as hell one morning I poured boiling water all over my hand. So now I know that the Naval hospital's phone numbers are all answered by computers that won't connect you to a nurse, and also how to find the emergency room. And finally, to add insult to injury (literally --- how rare is that?), while the Dept. of Defense is glad to loan us furniture since it wouldn't pay for us to bring our own, it can supply vast quantities of chests of drawers that are too bulky for the size of Japanese bedrooms, but can't locate a desk chair in the entire Pacific theater. At the moment, I'm sitting on the "desk chair" provided with the "student desk," and I can comfortably rest my chin on the desktop while I type this. And, after carefully asking me to describe the number and ages of my children, the housing office issued me an apartment-sized refrigerator, along with helpful advice about how growing children need to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, which I guess I'm supposed to purchase daily since there isn't room for any of it in my fridge. Maybe culture shock IS the right term ---- it's just not Japanese culture that's the shock, it's the miseries of military culture that are getting to me.

The connections from our digital camera to the computer are, along with our other possessions, still being guided across the Pacific by intrepid Samoan navigators aboard a recreation of the Kon Tiki, so pictures will be delayed a little further. You'll be amazed at the golden brown-ness of our children --- only their butts carry any reminder that they're related to one of the melanin-challenged, and even I have developed the scattering of freckles on my arms into a galaxy so closely packed that, from a distance, they almost resemble a tan. And that's despite conscientious application of SPF 50 :)

But even when the children are overtired and shouting, while I'm sitting in a room full of nothing but white walls and clunky furniture (because my things are apparently being delivered by outrigger canoe), crumbs and sand (because it's truly impossible to keep vast expanses of tile clean while three children eat nine meals a day, not to mention go to the beach, with only a broom), while attempting the disarm the toddling artist of the crayon her siblings have so helpfully given her ....... even then, I can look through the balcony doors and see, just past the trees in the park across the street, the first leap from the seawall to the horizon --- the East China Sea. At dawn, the sky heats from grey to red, the clouds brighten to white, and the sea gains color last of all, from iron grey to shivering blue. At noon there's often haze in the distance, and the ferries and fishing boats and dredging ships appear and disappear like guests in another room, while the waves at the breakwater run in long, white lines. But dusk is the best, as the sunset pulls the light from the sky but, for a few minutes, still glows on the water so that the sea is a lighter silver than the sky. The water itself is blue, and warm, and clear. By the time we leave here, the East China Sea will no doubt be burned onto my retinas, and I'll carry the image with me everywhere I ever go.

Peace, and the blessings of your chosen deity ----