February 2003 Archives

Coffee colored carpet


You've probably seen my carpet peeking out in photos on this site. Like here in this picture of my office from November.

It's the most impractical pale beige color. What I really need is something the color of coffee. Because this carpet which started out pristine when we moved in a year ago is now mottled with little coffee splashes.

Despite attempts to clean them up, those coffee blips and blops have worked their way into the carpet and show up as tiny circular shadows. Coffee pastilles, pale cocoa sprinkles on cappucino foam. Scars of clumsy morning walks through the hall.



Expatriate Americans really get bent over when it comes to taxes. We pay income tax twice--once to Japan and once to America. There are only two nations in the entire world that make their citizens abroad pay tax: the US and Libya.

Japanese taxes are due on March 17th. I've got my forms and the instructions in English and have been trying to figure out exactly how to fill in the forms. I've completed the one that tallies my small business earnings and expense. That was easy.

But looking at the main form, I can't figure out where to put this total. There are two sections where this might go: Amount of Earnings and Amount of Income. But it's not clear which number I should use where. Check out this explanation:

How to Complete Form B
Write each amount entered in the 'statement of earnings and expenses' or 'financial statement for blue return' in the following blocks of the first page of the return here: amount of earnings, etc. 'business (sales or agriculture)' [blocks a and i], 'amount of income (business (sales etc. 1 or agriculture 2)' [blocks 1, 2].

Government instructions are the same the world over...confusing! I will try to figure this out this afternoon so that I can then get started on my American taxes. Argh!

Launch squid


It's good to have geeky friends.

Dave and I have been playing with SquidCam a video conferencing program. It's a kissing cousin to the webcam tools I used back in the mid 90s.

Is it any better? Well, I can connect my real video camera to it, so the adjustments are a bit easier to make, and in these days of high bandwidth, we can send pretty decent video resolution at an acceptable framerate but at the expense of audio. If we want to hear one another clearly, we have to drop the video quality down, as pictured above.

So it's far from perfect. But it does let me hang out with Dave while he eats dinner and watches DVDs. And that's pretty fun. Launch squid!

Laundry day

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mylaundry.jpgToday is a sunny contrast to yesterday's windy, snowy weather. Everyone has their things hanging out to dry--umbrellas, futon, washing of all sorts.

I've done my sheets and they are now blowing about in the breeze off my veranda. They'll take next to no time to dry, even though the sun is going in and out behind the clouds. I do hope they don't blow off into the neighbor's garden or onto the train tracks below. Should probably go pin them down with the giant plastic clamps I use.

When I hung them, I made a tactical error. I didn't notice the layer of grime on the railing until after I'd laid the sheets over it. I should have figured it would be there. Normally, I clean the railings weekly, but it's been over a month and they are pretty gritty. I forgot to do them yesterday when I did the rest of the dusting.

My sheets are going to have little lines of dirt on them. Oh, well.

Warm sauce


Tonight, due to lack of shopping motivation (it's windy, wet and snowing out there!), we're eating a pantry favorite--pasta putanesca. It's a standby that's warm, filling and made entirely out of stuff in the pantry. No fresh ingredients required.

Here's how I make it, in case you're looking for something to cook tonight.

Kristen's Putanesca

1 can whole Italian (plum) tomatoes
4 or 5 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 teaspoon capers, smashed up a bit
2 tablespoons black olives, sliced or chopped
2 tablespoons green olives, sliced or chopped
minced garlic (as much as you like, the more the better in my opinion!)
1 teaspoon olive oil
red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and anchovies. Cook until the anchovies are a soft paste. Drop in the olives and capers then add the tomatoes, squeezing them through your fingers to break them up. (Fun!) Pour in the remaining liquid from the tomato can. Allow to cook until the liquid is reduced, but not too thick. In the classic tradition, the sauce should be the consistency to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Red pepper flakes add some zing--especially important if you didn't use much garlic. Put them in while the liquid is reducing. Sometimes I leave them out. The recipe is very forgivin so you can vary the quantities of just about everything above to suit your tastes.

Serve over pasta of your choice--penne is good, or a nice thick spaghetti. Make enough for me and Tod to be bloated, or for four people to eat normal amounts accompanied with salad and bread. If you have salad and bread in the pantry. ;-)

Two Aussies


Today, two "business" meetings. The first with an Australian woman; the second with an Aussie man. Two people from the same country but how different can you get?

Tracey and I are both members of the same DigitalEve SIG. In fact, we are the only members. We had hoped some others would join us but not today. So we sat, enjoyed cake and coffee and talked about our businesses. How can we improve what we're doing and how can we help one another? In this meeting, support was the name of the game.

Meeting number two was ostensibly a social dinner. But talk turned to work and from there, it was a game of Let's Guess the Motives Behind this Conversation. Why was I being buttered up? Why did certain topics come up? What was I giving away? "You can only go so far with questioning everything the guy says," Tod commented later. So true. It was a stimulating conversation with a million different (possible) interpretations. Which one is correct remains to be seen.

So the moral of the story. Don't judge a book by its passport.




Yesterday I walked over to Korakuen, the traditional Japanese garden not too far from home.

I strolled through the plum orchard and breathed in the delicious sweet scent of the blossoms. All the trees smelled different; every shade of pink keyed to a different olfactory tune. The breeze smelled like perfume. Mmmmm.




OK, this is getting ridiculous. It's 5:00 in the morning. But I haven't just awakened. I've been up all night. A short nap in the afternoon turned into a 7 hour rest and I woke at 23:00 ready to go for another day.

So I've spent my night-for-day doing taxes, catching up with some reading, and drawing. The drawing has been fun; it's been a while since I've spent time with paper and ink. I often forget how much I enjoy drawing.

But I know that tomorrow I have things planned and I need to be at least vaguely rested. Can I sleep again soon? Maybe before the sun rises...hurry up, tired feelings.

My list

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I learned at my mother's knee that a list is a great way to focus on what needs to be done. Since my brain is not too happy about focussing at the moment, the list I made this morning at 4:30 is guiding me gently through the day.

I'm surprised at what I've managed to accomplish despite the continuing jetlag.

So far this morning I've ticked off: clean kitchen, change lightbulb in shower, rewrite FCCJ password instructions, put away laundry, and hand wash sweaters. Later on today I will get to "do Japanese taxes" or else I'll take a nap.

I've also given the Zous a hand with their website by uploading some new postcards and launching their latest venture--Zousan t-shirts

Next on the list: sort through closet and dresser. I brought home new clothes, so I need to make room. It's a one-for-one deal in this house. New in, old out. Please excuse me while I go get a garbage bag.

3:16 am

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316.jpgI seem to be anti-adjusting to the time here.

When you travel to Japan from the US, jetlag tends to make you wake up extra early. That's one of the reasons Tsukiji Fish Market is in all the travel guides--it's one of the few things to do before 10 am in this city.

So when I woke at 5:30 on Monday I was expecting it. But yesterday I got up at 5 and here I am, writing this at 4:06 in the morning--50 minutes after I woke up.

I'd hoped to go back to sleep, but my brain is working and sleep's not going to happen. I think I'll make some coffee now. And take a nap this afternoon.


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March 2002

February 2003

It's pretty cool to see the equipment cracking off walls and pushing them over. Concrete kicks up a lot of dust. I have no idea what will be going up in place of this very large apartment block. Maybe just another very large apartment block.

Stay tuned for further photos of the destruction and reconstruction.



Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful weather!

It's 12 degrees (54 F) and sunny. The air feels mild and smells like Spring; there are plum blossoms everywhere. I have the doors and windows open to air out the house. What a joyful day.

GMT +9 again


Finally back in the right time zone--all my clocks and timepieces agree with the local time. My kitchen clock and my system clock are in agreement. I don't have to add 3 and switch day for night. Unfortunately my body clock is just plain confused.

There is nothing nicer than coming home. I knew I was missing Japan, but I didn't realise how much until we got off the train and I saw the neon and crowds and bustle of Ueno. Ah, home!

Of course, now I will miss all of my family and friends, but since most of them have agreed to come visit "soon" I won't miss them for too long.


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I don't sleep well before I travel. Even though I'm mostly packed and ready to go at 9:30 for our 12:40 flight, I'm still wide awake and ready for action at 6:00 this morning.

It's really quiet here as I sit on the sofa bathed in the blue light of my laptop and the the city-orange glow of the still dark morning. I can hear the fridge whining and the server in the laundry room is doing something with its disks. John just coughed and I hear his feet padding down the hall to the bathroom. My keypresses are explosions.

To pass the time until everyone else gets up, I will blog, check my mail, maybe read news until the sun comes up. It's really nice to be alone for a few minutes.

Me, American?


A friend once said that travelling abroad is the way to learn to love America. He said he felt more in tune with the US when he was away, and more able to see what makes him American and what makes America great.

I suspect that he just didn't like the toilets in France amd was feeling homesick for Charmin.

Living abroad has helped me recognise what makes me American, that is true. But I find that they are not traits that I think are particularly good. Here's what I see in myself.

  • Violence. I'm not running around beating people up, but violence creeps into my speech (kick ass) and my actions (smacking someone playfully) in nearly unconcious ways. Japanese and Europeans don't seem to do these things.
  • Volume. There's no doubt that I (and maybe the average American, too) would be a great soliloquist. Not only could my normal speaking voice carry to the stalls, but I have a large quantity of things to say. Usually mundane, uninformed and purposeless. I've learned to be quieter, but it's still hard to stop talking.
  • Frankness. My life is an open book (or an open weblog as the case may be). There is no reticence about discussing my personal life with near-strangers. Not all Americans are this way, but a vast majority of them that I've met talk about themselves without hesitation. And usually, as in my case, without any reason.
  • Ignorance. Americans are not very well educated (but not stupid). Although I try to seek multiple sources, many times I don't seek more information than what's handed to me. Maybe this is not an American problem alone, but it's a hallmark of the "ugly American" and I know I've found it in myself. I am working to change this.
  • Laziness. Probably not too many people who know me would think I'm lazy, but I will insist that I am a slacker. If I did everything I could do, instead of just what I bother to do, I'd be a whirlwind of productivity. In the general case of Americans, I think that most people prefer to take the easy path than to work hard for something. This does not seem to be true in other cultures.

I can think of other traits that i think stem from my American upbringing, but I'm too lazy to write them out now. No matter what I write, it doesn't negate the American-ness of my existence. But I unlike my friend, I can't see that these traits make me or my homeland great.



dresses.jpgMJ told me to come home with a new wardrobe. I haven't succeeded but I did have fun trying things on at Norstrom today.

Kris and I always get carried away when we shop together. Today we tried on matching velvet dresses that went beautifully with our red hair and pale skin. They were exquisite, but after putting them on, we decided that a photo souvenir was enough.

But I did get two pair of shoes, several funky tops, and a pair of pants. So even though it's not a full wardrobe, it is a much-needed renewal. And I might even share with a certain Aussie redhead I know. Now that I think about it, there were three of those dresses...



My computer says it's 5:28 on Thursday morning. The clock on the stove across the room says 2:28 in the afternoon on Wednesday. Kris is climbing the stairs to the apartment--coming home early from work. John is telecommuting on a conference call in the other room. Tod is working on a programming project. I am in my pajamas having just finished some work of my own.

Time is topsy-turvey. I think I blogged for Tuesday on Monday night, when it was already Tuesday in Tokyo. Have I blogged for today yet?



I'm no longer ignorant. I'm not even obtuse. I'm abstruse.

Plus, I'm...ah...cute.

Disaster plan


Since the US increased its terrorist alert to "orange" level, there's been lots of news about what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.

One thing that's being sugested is to have an action plan for the family in the event of an attack. Identify meeting points; know your local emergency evacuation points for schools and so on; keep a kit of emergency rations and blankets handy.

It really seems like they stole the earthquake disaster plans from Japan and stuck "terrorist attack" in them in place of "natural disaster."

So where do you meet your people in the event of a disaster?


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I live three lives.

In Tokyo, I've got an efficient, logical life with lots of work, friendly mates, and productivity. I love the city. I relish being outside my culture. And the challenges of living here keep things interesting. I am very comfortable and happy here.

In Chicago, my "life" is deep relationships. I have friends who are so close to me that I can walk around naked in front of them and they don't point and laugh. When I cry, they know just what to do to make me feel better. We love one another.

Online, I have some integration between the two. Weblog, chat, e-mail, and lots of communication tools that I use to try to link the other two lives. My virtual world is almost as real, and certainly as important to me, as the other two physical places.

But being here in Chicago, I realise that I actually miss my friends more than I usually let myself admit because it makes me sad and I hate to be sad. I wish there were a way to have my friends all move to Japan (or move Japan to my friends). Age old dilemma, isn't it?

Wishes are pointless. Actions are better. Must find a good action to take. Any ideas?



We've reached the last leg of the trip. Now we're in Chicago and it's really cold here: 9 F (-16 C). By the time we'd taken the unheated train into the city and waited on the corner of a windy street for the lights to change, I was so cold my hands were blue and my body was shaking.

I do not like winter anymore.* It used to be my favorite season but what was I thinking? Give me autumn or spring, please. Maybe short term extremes--a week of cold and a nice juicy snowstorm--would be OK.

*I will recognise these advantages to winter: roaring fires, hot chocolate, cuddling under the covers on a chilly morning.

Dinner with old friends


It seems like a long time ago that I worked with Cynthia (she was my boss's boss when I left Duquesne University in January 1998) but she's the person I most want to catch up with when I'm in town. There's a long list of others, but Cynthia is one of the few who manages to get on the agenda while I'm here. No matter how long we've been apart, it's like we've only been away a week or two. I don't have too many friends like that anymore.

Tonight we had dinner with her family and Jason (another old DU coworker) and his family. What a treat. Not only did we get a wonderful meal and more than enough wine, but we had great conversation and as we lurched drunkenly into our taxi Cynthia's husband, Jeremy, handed us the CD we'd been listening to over our last glass of cognac.

And note this, Tokyoites: a 12 mile (20 km) taxi ride to the suburbs cost under $25 (3000 yen). What a bargain. :-)

Hello, things!


Five years ago when we left the US, we packed up our stuff for storage. We only expected to be gone for six months, so we weren't too picky about sorting through it.

Today, we went through almost 50 boxes of our things at the warehouse. 11 went back into storage; 10 boxes of dishes, towels and other kitchen stuff went to Maureen, and 26 boxes of random things (books, a printer, more books, clothes) went to charity. Doesn't add up to 50 does it? That's because the rest was trash. :-)

There sure was a lot of natsukashii in all those boxes, but I'm happy that our things are being put to use by someone who needs them.

Photo shoot


On Tuesday night, we had a photo shoot with a photographer friend of Jean's. Now we have lots of family portraits in various groupings. I like this one of us and the Zous.

Mom's mac

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Jean's got herself a new iBook (do you think there was any influence from me and Tod? Nah...) and Tod is giving her some tutoring. She's really happy to have wireless 'Net access in the living room. :-)

Like father

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Related? Maybe.....



I'm missing the first day of spring in Japan.

Today is Setsubun. All around the country, people are throwing dried soy beans to scare away demons and bring good luck for the beginning of the lunar year. (It's not actually done on the lunar new year anymore but close enough, I suppose.)

When I return to Japan, the plum trees that herald spring will be in full bloom. I'm looking forward to seeing them and feeling the mild weather. I'm getting a little bit tired of Pennsylvania winter...

Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

World events in transit

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While I was on the train to Pittsburgh, the space shuttle Columbia failed to land. This news was delivered to me by my in-laws when they picked me up at the station.

Had I been at home, I would have known minutes after it happened and probably would have had as much information as anyone could as the story unfolded. As it is, I have only heard the news through 3rd parties and haven't even checked for myself.

I'm obviously on vacation now.

Action and thinking


Why is that although the news says Americans support Bush and America's aggressive war dance, nobody I've spoken to here thinks this coming war is a good idea. Except maybe my father, who is cryptic about military things in general.

There have been anti-war protests and demonstrations but I think they are ineffective. We can complain all we like, but generals, advisors and others in power are not influenced directly by thousands of rallying citizens. The masses are too easily dismissed, even when they have a good point. If you don't agree, think for a minute of how you disdain groups you don't belong to--football fans, country music listeners, Republicans, cat lovers, customers at the store where you work, clueless computer users...

So what can we do? Think ahead and act now before it's too late. How do we prevent a future conflict? Change attitudes--our own, our friends, and most importantly, those of the people in power. Become the people in power.

The only way to change attitudes is to think carefully and form new opinions. So here is a question to start with: Is "the American way of life" better than the lifestyle in a country you've never been to and only know though media reports? Why? Should "American values" be globally adopted? Do we have the right to impose our lifestyle on others?

Discuss this over dinner with your friends tonight. See what happens.

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