I currently have a little creature loose in my house. She has a soft, fuzzy head that I like to pat. She gets around quite quickly on all fours, often with a sock* hanging from her mouth. When she wants to get in more trouble than average, she gets up on two legs. She sometimes comes when she's called. When she's sad she'll whimper or cry, and when she's happy or excited she'll pant really loud. I try to take her on a walk every day. Needless to say, I'm always cleaning up her messes, but I have a pen I can put her in when I really need to. She eats anything she finds on the floor. She has plenty of chew toys, but her favorite right now is my leg. She'll just come up and chomp on it with no warning when I'm innocently cooking. She only weighs about 19 pounds, so she's easily transportable. Everywhere we go, people tell her how cute she is. She doesn't say a word, but her big round eyes will melt your heart.
Overall the switch to left-side driving hasn't been too excrutiating. When you first arrive you go through a period of what almost feels like vertigo because of everything being reversed and the fear and dizziness that comes with that. Your brain is constantly telling you, "No! Something's wrong!" and you're having to suppress it. Then, if you're like Nathan, you go through a few isolated incidences of LSDCD (Left Side Driving Confusion Disorder) because driving on the left suddenly feels natural, your brain stops telling you that something is wrong, and so then you panic, thinking that something IS wrong even though you're driving where you're supposed to be. Or if you're like me, all of your panic is justified because you have suddenly reverted to driving on the right. But now it's finally pretty natural. After 5 weeks here the only time I have to deal with LSDCD is when I've not driven myself for a couple of days--like if it's a Monday and Nathan drove me everywhere that weekend, or if I've been too busy dealing with Okinawan germs to leave the house.
Other driving-related miscellanea: It's perfectly legal here for people to "pull over" (move as close to the curb as possible, thereby only blocking half of the lane) in order to hop out at a vending machine and grab a juice, a coke, or a BOSS coffee (as advertised by Tommy Lee Jones' unsmiling face). They are into their refreshments. I have also seen multiple people smoking while driving scooters (something I never saw in Italy, but I didn't hang out in the wild south that much). A well-commented-upon issue is the lack of car seats or even butts in seats for little kids...among their in-car gymnastics I've heard of them sitting on the dashboard. And in general, their cars are quite small--but Nathan pointed out the other day that for little bitty Japanese ladies, these station wagon-type things really are minivan-sized. It actually made me feel less bad about driving a bigger car.
And now, a couple of articles about Japanese culture (in case you're like me and just skip over stuff like this until you move there). Oh wait, except Blogspot won't let me paste into this window. Am I just a moron? Does anyone else have this problem? I'll have to put them on facebook.
Yesterday was our first full day in the house. Having escaped the clutches of the Iron Lotus, Nathan and I both slept incredibly well on our loaner Air Force bed, in bedding that included $3 BX pillow cases and his woobie. Nathan got up with Evangeline, and when I straggled downstairs later I made coffee with our French press (yay! no more $6 cappuccinos, I mean pound-o-ccinos) and a borrowed pot (I didn't plan our unaccompanied baggage very well, in case you can't tell by now). The house is really nice, and not just compared to the Wasteland. It's even nice compared to other houses on base--mostly 1-story, flat-rooved things with awkwardly big, treeless yards and mold creeping up the sides. Ours is recently redone, 3-bedroom, plenty of cupboard space, no mold, great water pressure...I could go on! Our neighborhood sits on top of a hill and has its own basketball court/playground. The townhouses are linked in fours and face each other in groups of three buildings around a parking area. So yes, it is very close quarters but so far two of the neighbors have introduced themselves and seem very, very nice.
Having found out that Nathan would be at work late, Eva and I decided to walk down the hill to get some fresh air and rent a movie. It was overcast and cool. As I traipsed down the hill, a middle-aged black man was hauling his considerable bulk up it. We traded hellos and I dreaded the return trip. Having found "where the sidewalk ends" many, many times in my walks around Ft Benning and Ft Huachuca, I was pleased to find full sidewalk coverage all the way down the hill (with a guardrail to protect from Americans careening down, possibly on the wrong side of the road)...until I reached a spot across the street from the shoppette/movie rental place/Popeye's, at which point there is no crosswalk, no sidewalk on that side, and a pretty busy road to cross. You know how people stage breastfeeding protests? Sometimes I feel like my whole life is one big walking protest and I should wear a sign that says "There should be a crosswalk/sidewalk here." There are probably 1,000 people who live within walking distance of this little shopping center, and no pedestrian access. But I digress.
I guess that the harder it is to get to Popeye's, the healthier we'll all be anyway.
On the way back I saw a taxi dropping off a woman at her house. (There are Japanese taxis that have permanent passes to be on base.) The taxi driver was very efficiently helping her with her groceries, and I thought about how wonderfully helpful Japanese people are without ever expecting, or even hoping for, tips. Nathan and I once discussed how all customer service-type people in the States should be sent to Japan for 2 weeks of training. My friend pointed out that this very politeness makes it impossible for Americans to pick up on social cues--so if you're wondering if whatever you're doing is socially OK, or if you're using the right word for something, you'll never know. I suppose that learning a lot of Japanese won't be nearly as rewarding in terms of social interaction was learning a couple of words of Italian--seeing a cool mask of forced neutrality on an Italian shopkeeper's face change to warmth and excitement made every Italian word learned worth it.
Heading back toward the house I saw the same man who'd been walking sitting in a front yard with a younger man, and I got the feeling he was a visiting parent. This house was at the bottom of my hill, so he'd been tackling Rolling Heights Rd voluntarily. Impressive.
As I was huffing and puffing my way up the hill (Eva dozing peacefully) I stared at the 30-foot rock wall that encases the earth on the uphill side of the road. I realized the other day that there are hundreds of PVC pipes sticking out of it, presumably for water flow in wet season, and that what I had assumed to be some kind of beautiful volcanic rock was actually concrete. I'm not sure. I'll get back to you if I ever find out. That was all on my right across the road. Three feet to my left and heading downhill was forest--for the most part a wall of mishmashed greenery of the intensity that only happens in warm climates, but with an occasional hole in it where you could see into the canopy. Looking into those holes is kind of like sticking your head into a long green tunnel. It has a cooler, moister feeling than the outside air.