Our Crazy Neighbors

Earlier this week we went to the mid-week church meeting for the first time ever. We have always been interested in the situation (mess) in North Korea, so when the Pastor's wife furtively invited us to a secret talk by a person who works with North Korean escapees in China, we knew we wanted to go.

Although we were late arriving because of my work, we were in time to hear him explain about what is happening in that part of the world in very fast Japanese. North Korea is a very sad country with a very deluded leadership - if you can call people like that leaders. Their army are privileged, but even they don't have enough fuel to patrol in vehicles - a group of sixty or so will march along their side of the border with a guy at the front holding the flag and the rest straggling along behind.

China is not a First World country yet, but it is developing very quickly. It was interesting to see the huge difference between the sparkling new buildings on the Chinese side of the border compared to the village huts on the North Korean side. Come night time and the contrast is even more stark: While the Chinese side is all lit up, the only light on the North Korean side is the reflected glow of the spotlight focused on Kim Il Sung's (he is the father of the current "leader") statue.

The most sad thing is that it is the ordinary people who are the real victims. They try desperately to escape from North Korea. Many obviously are not successful and either die in the attempt or are caught. Even those who do make it have to dodge the Chinese police who, rather than offering to provide shelter, imprison them and send them back. Many people commit suicide rather than allowing themselves to be sent back. Some even throw themselves off the bridge that crosses the river that divides the two countries.

The other thing which really hit me was the size of the children: Every year since the early 1990s when the former Soviet Union stopped providing aid, North Korea has been claiming that storms, flooding and other freak weather events have destroyed crops, causing famine. The real reason is corruption and mismanagement, since neither South Korea, nor China that share the same weather conditions to a large extent have had the same food shortages. Anyway, as a result of years of malnourishment (in which millions have perished), the children have not developed properly. So we were shown pictures of children who looked like Japanese 8 or 10 year-olds - except that they were 15 or 17 years old.

When will the madness end?

Vivid Rainbow

I watched this rainbow all the way home from work. Actually, because I was dawdling looking up at the sky, I almost missed the train. I then watched it from the window and ran home from the station to tell Abigail before it disappeared. I needn't have worrird - it hang around for quite a while as the sun went down.

It was the happy remenant of Typhoon Number 7, that was supposed to hit us directly, but ended up losing steam and veering off towards Tokyo. We didn't mind. A little rain and light winds and then this lovely rainbow were the result.

Baby boom

It's been a wild ride already and we only found out less than a week ago that we're going to have a baby. We went to the doctor on Thursday morning, only to be told that because she couldn't see the baby on the ultrasound (which I thought was a bit early to do anyway!) that I might have an ectopic pregnancy. She got us scared and hyped and then said that it maybe it's not showing up on the screen because it's just too little at the moment. I wish she had said that right away instead of umming and awwwing about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. Japanese doctors seem to go in for scare tactics, and it's not exactly what you want to hear when this is your first child and first time to go through all this! I have had emotional ups and downs, sometimes ecstatic at the idea of a new baby and other times a bit tense and worried that we're doing all this in a foreign country with no English-speaking doc to help me out. It takes a lot of specialized terms to understand what's going on, terms that I didn't exactly learn to take my generic grammar test last December. You just don't learn phrases like "ectopic pregnancy" to take a foreign language exam. Stephen had to help me a lot at the doctor's office, and I felt like a baby myself, though not quite as little as our little one is at the moment.

Corny show

I was watching a Japanese cooking show tonight and saw quite a unique take on corn soup. It was cold corn soup, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle, and thin slices of smoked ham on top.

I'm not joking.

Something fishy

Mrs. Itoh, our next door neighbor, took me to a semi-local fish market last Tuesday. As you can see, we encountered lots of interesting fellas on our outing. This one had a price tag of 2000 yen and I just couldn't see parting with that amount of money. Excuses, excuses.

What a pair

Took this piccie backstage at the sumo competition. These were sumo wrestlers-in-training and the little boy's mother asked if he could sit in one of their lap's for a cute picture. I took the opportunity to butt in and take one as well. Couldn't resist.

Sumo Time

Last Monday was a blast! Usually sumo tickets are really expensive, but a friend of a friend had extra tickets and asked the friend to ask a friend, and she asked me. I went with Naomi and her friend's mother (Uchimura san) and her friend's mother's friend. It was hot, and loud, and completely fun. The carnival atmosphere was enhanced by Mrs. Uchimura's huge feast that she had prepared for us, and we all pigged out. Stephen and I went two years ago with my former Japanese teacher, Kazuko, and our friend Sheena (who now lives in Seoul). Stephen wasn't able to go with me this time, and watched for me on TV, but sadly didn't get to see my little sweaty face. It was a national holiday (Sea Day) so there was quite a boisterous crowd on hand to add to the festivities.

Phew, What A Scorcher!

Abigail in the park today:

"It's cool for August..."

It's a bouncing baby blue line!

"I don't know how I feel.... Excited? Nervous? Numb? It doesn't feel real at all. All I know is that Abigail persuaded me (against my better judgment) that we should take the pregnancy test tonight, even though we were supposed to wait until tomorrow morning, according to my calculations and the Test instructions. Anyway, as you can see, we had a bouncing baby blue line! And the book says that a false positive is very unlikely, so it must be true.... Or should we wait until after a few days when we take the second one before we get excited :)!" - Stephen

"March 23rd...Hmmm...According to our calculations, that's our baby's due date! I'm overwhelmed and just keep thinking that I feel so blessed that God is willing to loan us His child for a little while. He's already been planning this little human for millennia, knows all about him or her, and is going to help us every step of the way. Are we ready? No way! Would we ever be ready? I don't think so! Is any human parent ever ready for this kind of excitement? I doubt it. One step at a time. The next step, apparently, is making an appointment with the doctor. That should be fun. I'm a bit anxious about dealing with a Japanese doctor, as they're renowned for being extremely overbearing. But I've already been praying for a good physician, one who will actually let Stephen into the delivery room, and hopefully who speaks some English in case I have questions I can't explain in Japanese. This is so weird. Is this really happening? So many thoughts going through my head right now, so many emotions hitting me at once!" - Abigail

You Only Live Twice

Quote from Abigail's Social Security update document:

"Your spouse or minor child may be eligible for a special one-time death benefit of $X"

The Social Security Administration could not have made their stance on reincarnation much clearer than that, I suppose.

Call interrupting

Most phones have "call waiting" now, allowing you to switch over to a new caller if you are already on the line with someone else: There is an unobtrusive "beep" on the line that alerts you to the new caller and giving you the option of clicking over to talk to them.

Not so with BB Phone, the VOIP phone system that comes with YahooBB ADSL broadband here: The beep starts as a beep, but soon enough the whole coherent structure of your existing call breaks down until you have to hang up and talk to the other person anyway. Or, the new caller just cuts you off immediately. That's why we call it "call interrupting". So we apologize if we suddenly seem to hang up in the middle of a call. It may not be our fault...

Teenage brats

I'm not usually ecstatic to have to take the trash out, but I did get a reward this morning when I went down the stairs and noticed that the 6 day old fledglings were just taking their first flaps out of the nest. You can see one of the teenage brats in the photo.

Their mouths still opened wide whenever mom was around, but beneath the fuzz true wings had developed, allowing them to do little hop-flights from branch to branch.

You may be wondering why I have been writing in the past tense. Well, when we came back later, the nest was empty and they were gone. Now that's fast development. I wonder whether they will come back here to roost, or if that's it? I'm glad I got to see their first moments of exploratory freedom if that's the case.

Ms. Birdy's Babies

I don't know how well you can see the new additions to our apartment community here in Okazaki, but Mother Bird had just flown off to round up some grub(s) for her newly hatched fuzzy babies. I grabbed the camera and hot-footed it down the spider-infested stairs (must be spider season--had to throw one out of the car before I could drive anywhere this morning) to catch them in all their hungry action from in between the first and second floors. I counted at least four beaks begging for lunch. My tummy's grumbling, too, so must be that time.

Stupid, stupid @*&%@*s!

So having had Live8 and the march in Edinburgh to Make Poverty History, we now have the terrorists' contribution to the debate about how to improve the world we live in: "Hey, Al. We could, err..., blow it up, right?"

Yes, the little geniuses have been playing their stupid destructive games, which benefit no one. Not themselves, not their cause, not their people. No one. It really is pathetic.

You know, I have a book called Dogs and Demons. It's about Japan, but the same principles apply here: It comes from a Chinese proverb. What it means is that it is easy to draw a demon, because no one has ever seen one, but to draw a dog well is really hard because everyone knows what they look like. So, here we have the terrorists. They take the easy route. Blowing stuff up? Anyone can do that. Solving the problems of their societies? Much harder - so they do't bother with that.

That's it. I'm through for now... and this is a family-friendly blog.

Hurricane Dennis on its way to Florida

Oh, whoops, I was mistaken. Mea culpa. That's Hurricane Dad. Obviously CNN didn't report this accurately. You just can't trust the media these days.

CNN.com - Dennis reaches hurricane strength - Jul 6, 2005

Deep Irony

Scientific experiment dislodges comet from its orbit to send it on a direct collision course with Earth....

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Nasa probe strikes Comet Tempel 1

Deep Thoughts...

Mystery solved. I figured out why your life flashes before your eyes just before death: It's like a video - you have to rewind it before you take it back.

For summer time, it's festival time.

Our neighbors, the Itohs, were coming back from a school summer festival the other night when I accosted them with the digi cam. Mrs. Itoh is holding Kaname, who was only about a month old when we moved in. He's growing up fast! Kotone is 5, and loves school! She also likes to play "When the Saints Go Marching In" for me on her little green piano.

It's Moussaka For You!

His time came. But when it did, he went without a whimper, his honor intact.

Local Egg Warmer

You can see our little friend, Ms. Birdy, from our apartment stairs. (Yes, I'm usually good and use the stairs.) I tried to say hello and take her picture yesterday but she was busy in a squabble with a bothersome neighbor bird.


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