It’s A Small World (A VERY Small World…)

Haven’t been at home much today.  I went with a good friend to a big pottery/porcelain festival downtown… one which is held every year for a period of five days.

It was nice to see many familiar faces, shop owners that we’ve bought dishes from.  (A couple of my friends and I are trying to start up a side business, so we go to these festivals on a regular basis.)  The whole group of us wasn’t together today because of conflicting schedules and the vendors we know all seemed to ask about it.

There are times when I wish that I was Japanese… a thought which has passed through my mind my whole life!  But there have been advantages and positives to looking like I do and being a “gaijin” or a foreigner.  And when you’re meeting important people whom you want to make an impression on, it’s not a bad thing to be a gaijin!  🙂

Anyway, getting to the point of today’s title…

My friend and I visited every vendor today and I think there were about 250 vendors from all over the country.  (Most were from Fukuoka Prefecture and other parts of Kyushu.)  As we were getting to the last ones, we stopped in front of one place, admiring the pottery which was quite appealing to the eye, yet very simple.  The seller was from Kumamoto Prefecture, which is about a 2-hour drive south of here (Fukuoka).  He began to explain the area where he lives and that the poster of the pre-fab wall was a picture of his living room… it showed a wood-burning stove and comfortable looking furniture.

I got excited and told him the same exact stove was in the house where I grew up.  He asked where I grew up.

“I actually grew up in Kanagawa Prefecture.”

“Really?  I used to live there, too.  In Yamato City.”

“Which part of Yamato City?!”  (I was really excited at this point.)

“In an area called Minami Rinkan.”

“THAT’S WHERE I GREW UP!!”

You see, that’s like running into someone who grew up and lived not only in Seattle, but in the same apartment complex on the north side of UW near the local Safeway and Ivar’s!!

He and I knew the same stores and restaurants.  He explained where he lived (rented one of the houses usually rented out to military families) and I knew exactly where it was.  It was completely wild!!

The world is a small place!  It truly is!  Yes, all these social networks and the Internet have brought everyone even closer together, but even without these things, we find ourselves in various places and different situations, meeting people in airports, standing in line at the post office, walking from ride to ride at the amusement parks… and when we strike up a conversation with others, one might be very surprised.  It’s not impossible to run into someone who has a very close connection to our own pasts.

Isn’t that cool?  🙂

Here’s to all those who grew up in Minami Rinkan… may we all run into one another one of these days!  🙂

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My Mama Bear…

Had to wake up a little early this morning to go to the elementary school graduation and while I was still under the warm, fuzzy blankets on the bed, I looked through my email on my iPhone… only to find a message I’d been dreading to see.

My Mama Bear passed away on the 14th.

It’s possible that a lot of people would read the sentence right above and think I’m referring to my grandmother, mother or another female relative.  Well, Mama Bear was not a blood relative at all, but that’s what I’ve called her for as long as I’ve known her.  (Since I was four, if my memory is correct.)  In the city where she lived, most people called her Miss Martha and a few would say Mrs. Fletcher, but to me… always Mama Bear.

Mama Bear was an amazing woman!  She was giving and kind, always had a smile on her face and always had positive things to say about the people around her.  She was a wonderful cook, an excellent writer, an articulate speaker, could make any craft which exists under the sun… and actually she taught me how to cross-stitch.  (I still have the very first thing she taught me… a small panda bear.)

There was one story which she would tell that I LOVED… the story about the big mouth frog.  And no matter how many times I heard her tell it, even if it was three or four times consecutively, I would laugh until my stomach hurt!  I wish I could tell it like she did… actually, I wish I had a recording of her telling it.

Anyway, the story of the big mouth frog was one with a moral:  it’s not good to be too nosy or too curious.  It went something like this…  (Try to imagine this being told by someone with a very strong Southern accent.)

Once upon a time, there was a big mouth frog.  The frog was hopping along and met a cat on the path.

“Hello, Mrs. Cat.  I’d like to know… what do you feed your BABIES?”

The cat replied, “Well, I feed them milk and meat… things like that.”

“Well, THANK YOU VEERY MUUUCH!”

The frog kept hopping along and met a cow in a field.

“Hello, Mrs. Cow.  I’d like to know… what do you feed your BABIES?”

The cow answered, “Let’s see, they drink milk and eat grass and hay… things like that.”

“Well, THANK YOU VEERY MUUUCH!”

The frog went on and happened upon a bird in a tree.

“Hello, Mrs. Bird.  I’d like to know… what do you feed your BABIES?”

The bird said, “I give them seed and worms… things like that.”

“Well, THANK YOU VEERY MUUUCH!”

The frog kept hopping along and met an alligator in the river.

“Hello, Mrs. Alligator.  I’d like to know… what do you feed your BABIES?”

The alligator smiled and said, “Well, I feed them BIG MOUTH FROGS!” to which the frog replied…

“Well, thank you veery muuuch…”  🙂

Oh, how I will miss Mama Bear… as will many, many more people out there.  May she rest in peace…

A Steak Lunch and Songs from the Past…

Well, it’s another rainy day here in northern Kyushu.  Saturday was the only day in the last week and a half that was actually nice and sunny.  Yesterday, rain.  Today, rain.  Forecast for tomorrow, rain.  Not great weather when one needs to get laundry done.  (And, no, I don’t have a clothes dryer.  They aren’t common like in the States and other countries.)

Yesterday, I got a call from a good friend of mine.  She knew the weather was going to be bad today and asked if I could take her around to the ¥100 shops to look for pieces and parts for handmade jewelry.  (This girl has more talent in the tip of her pinkie than so many people around me put together!  I’ll have to write a post about all the things she can do one of these days…)

So, we drove around to several ¥100 shops (or Dollar stores) and she found what she needed.  Seems she’s going to be teaching a class about making resin jewelry and needed supplies.

Once that was done, we decided to go and get a bite to eat.  We did the usual, “Where are we going to go?”  She and I tend to go to the same four or five places, which doesn’t bother either of us in the least, but today, she said she wanted to eat steak and had heard about a rather good place nearby called Western.

One step inside Western was like taking a step back in time.  There were empty beer bottles on the window sills.  There were American flags hanging here and there… wagon wheels were used to divide sections of the restaurant.  Framed photographs of cowboys and Old West towns were hanging on the walls.  The only odd thing about the place was that the utensils we were given were chopsticks, which my friend and I giggled about.

And the background music was mostly, of course, country and western music.  🙂

We ordered lunch specials and waited for our food.  As we chatted about this and that, I realized I recognized the melodies of every song.  My friend asked what the titles were and I told her I didn’t know.

“That’s unusual for you.  Plus, you’ve been humming along to almost every song!”

Then it struck me.  They were all familiar because my dad had known them!  🙂

I told her that so often he would hum or sing around the house, whether he was cleaning his desk (or more like rearranging the piles on his desk 🙂 ), chopping firewood out in the yard, checking on the veggies in the garden, or organizing receipts for the month.  And it was a very, very wide variety of music, everything from jazz standards to country & western to barber shop quartet songs to traditional hymns to music I listened to on the radio!!

As the music in the restaurant changed to the next song, my friend and I looked at one another as we both recognized the song… “Tennessee Waltz”.

“I’m sure he used to sing this one… right?” she asked.

I nodded and started to get teary-eyed.  (I still miss him something terrible…)

She smiled and said, “You’re so lucky to have had such a strong relationship with your dad.”

I nodded again… because I completely agree with her.  Memories of him are ones I would not trade for anything in the world!  🙂

Duck, Duck, Goose and other fun games…

Whew… what a busy day it’s been!

Since it had snowed with full force on Tuesday night, my kindergarten classes on Wednesday morning had to be changed to today.  If it had been any other season, they probably would’ve been canceled altogether, but graduation season is getting close and today’s classes were the last ones for this school year.  (I’ll explain the Japanese school year in a separate blog soon…)

Anyway, since it was the last time with the kids, I’d told them we’d have “Request Day” today.  “Request Day” is just that… they decide what we’re going to do during class, but it has to be something we’d done in English class during the year.  (English songs, games, crafts, etc.)

Three 30-minute classes… told them we’d be able to play at least two games during class time.

One class wanted to do “Color Touch” which is a simple game… the teacher calls out a color and the kids run around the room, find the color, touch it and go back to their seats.

Two classes wanted to play “Duck, Duck, Goose” and wanted Roberta-Sensei (sensei = teacher) to join in, too.  Needless to say, I was “it” quite a few times!!  An almost 42-year-old trying to compete with the energy and speed of 6-year-olds… there’s NO way!  😉

A cute note:  There are a few of the kids who can’t remember to say “goose”.  So, there were other variations…

  • “Duck, duck, moose…”
  • “Duck, duck, boots…”
  • “Duck, duck, blue…”
  • “Duck, duck, goo…”

As far as the second game, it was one that all three classes wanted to play… and one that ALL of my kindergarten students LOVE… Fruit Basket!

I do remember playing Fruit Basket when I was in elementary school.  Sure, it was fun, running around, trying to find an open chair when your fruit was called.  But I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as my little students do!  🙂

As the person who is “it” stands in the middle of the circle of chairs, thinking of which fruit to call out and the instant before the word comes out of their mouth, all the rest of the little ones sitting on the edge of their seats, not knowing for sure if they’re going to have to run or not.  That moment when someone yells, “Fruit Basket!”… the squeals and laughter fill the room and one can’t help but laugh along with them.

Can you tell I love my job?  🙂

I wish I’d taken some video of them today, but the kids wanted me to play, too.

So, I’m curious… what games did everyone like and play in elementary school?

When I Grow Up…

This morning, I had to drive across town to one of the kindergartens where I teach.  English classes are held there for the oldest kids (5 and 6-year-olds) and we see each other once a week.

March is graduation season in Japan and the kids will be starting a new chapter of their lives when they begin 1st grade at the local elementary school.  There were only two more times left for English classes (today and next week) and I had told the kids that for the last class, they could have a “Game Request Day”.

Today, I told the kids to go and get their sketchbooks and crayons.  While they were all settling back into their places, some on their seats and others on the floor, I wrote, “My Dream” up on the blackboard.  When I asked what they thought it said, most of the kids were trying to sound the words out and a few could actually read it with no problems at all.  (Yes, I was happy!)  The task was to write those words at the top of the paper and then draw a picture of what they want to become when they grow up.

Most of the little girls wanted to be models or idols or cake shop and flower shop owners.  Most of the little boys wanted to be soccer players, baseball players and train conductors.  There was the occasional Kamen Rider (an action hero over here) or a Pokemon Master, but most of the dreams were very realistic.

When I was their age, I wanted to be a singer.  As my friends and I got older, their dreams changed and mine didn’t.  All through elementary school, middle and high school, becoming a singer was the only dream I had because singing was like breathing to me.  I was always a part of the school choir, I sang in the choir at church, I sang in my bedroom, while I was in the bathtub, in front of the mirror… music was (and still is) my passion.

But I didn’t necessarily care about being in the spotlight.  If I was singing harmonies while someone else was taking the lead, that was fine by me!  I simply wanted to be singing!  (And that feeling hasn’t changed… and I still want to be a singer when I grow up!  🙂 )

A lot of the kids today asked me what my dream was when I was little and after telling them, I also said that they should never give up on their dreams.  One little boy said, “But, Sensei (teacher), you’re an English teacher, so your wish didn’t come true.”  But I explained that I also sing songs for commercials on TV and radio and have done back-up vocals for local artists.  I told him that anything is possible.

After hearing this, the little boy went to draw his picture.  When he came to show me his completed drawing, there were two separate pictures:  one of a soccer player and one of a baseball player.

“I want to be both!” he said with a grin on his face.  “Anything is possible, right, Sensei?”

Wanted to give him a big hug and cry, but instead, I held his soft face in my hands, nodded and said, “You’re absolutely right!”  (Precious, precious kids…)

So… what do you want to be when you grow up?  🙂

That Yummy, Fluffy, Puffy White Stuff (^^)/

What is something (an edible something) that you could not live without?  Some type of food that if the doctor told you, “I’m sorry, but if you keep eating (fill in the blank), you will experience major health issues!” you’d continue eating it anyway?

For me, it’s POPCORN!!  🙂

That Yummy Fluffy White Stuff

That Yummy Fluffy White Stuff!!

I have loved popcorn for as long as I can remember!  Growing up, my mother made popcorn every Saturday night.  From 7:30pm, we’d be watching a show called “Quiz Derby”.  It was a 30-minute quiz show that we’d watch as a family every week.  It was a show like this…

At about 7:45, she’d go into the kitchen and start cooking.  You could hear her shuffling around, the “clank” of the lid on the popcorn pot (which was actually a tempura pot that she used for popping popcorn) and a few minutes later, you could hear pops… a few at first and then continuous stream of sound.

The quiz show would end and, just like clockwork, my mom would walk into the living room, sit down on the floor next to me with a BIG bowl of popcorn and our favorite Saturday night show would begin.

In my mind, it was like this:  popcorn = “Hachi ji Dayo! Zeiin Shuugou!” (“It’s 8 o’ Clock! Everyone, come together!”) and vice versa

For those of you who grew up in Japan, here’s a nostalgic clip for you.  For those of you who grew up in other places, this is the variety/comedy show we watched every Saturday night at 8pm.

So, through the laughter and singing along with the top-selling hits of the time, you could smell that wonderful warm smell and hear the crunch of popcorn!

Nowadays, there are so many different types, so many different flavors.  But for me… put it in a big bowl, just sprinkle a little salt on the top and… perfection!  🙂

Do you have a popcorn story/memory?  What’s your favorite flavor?

The Tooth Fairy and Coins with Holes

I was flipping through the cable channels one day this week and saw a scene of a movie where a little girl had lost a tooth.  She was told to be sure and put it under her pillow and she’d find something from the tooth fairy the next morning.

Memories, memories…  🙂

Even though I lived in Japan, the tooth fairy dropped by my house whenever I lost a tooth, too.  I would carefully wrap my tooth up in a tissue so it wouldn’t get lost under my pillow or drop onto the floor.  In the morning, there would be a ¥50 coin wrapped in a tissue (probably the same one) in the place where the tooth had been.

For those of you who’ve never been to Japan, the ¥50 coin has a hole in it.  (Actually, there are two coins in Japan which have holes: the ¥5 coin and the ¥50 coin.)  It’s unusual to a lot of people and, come to think of it, I can’t think of any other country that has coins with holes.  (Something to Google later, I suppose…)

So, this is what it looks like.

Isn't it pretty? (Source: http://est-baibaibu.seesaa.net)

Thinking back now and how the exchange rate was ¥360 to $1, I was getting all of… 18 cents?  (Don’t hold me to that though… mathematics and I don’t get along very well.  🙂 )  But it didn’t matter to me because I could take that shiny ¥50 coin to the local candy shop and buy up to five things with it.

The tooth fairy did eventually raise the value to ¥100 and that’s as high as it got.

Anyway, when I’d tell my neighborhood friends about what the tooth fairy brought, they were all surprised that I actually got money… and money from a fairy!!  (And I was surprised that the tooth fairy didn’t go to their house.)  When they lost a tooth, they’d do the following:  if it was a lower tooth, they’d throw it on or over the roof of their house, and if it was an upper tooth, they’d throw it under the house.  This was done so that the new teeth would grow in strong and straight.

Just as my Japanese friends were surprised about a fairy who would come and pay for my teeth, my American friends were surprised to hear that the tooth fairy would leave me a coin with a hole.  There was even one boy who, after seeing a ¥50 coin I’d taken to school, said it was “fake money” and the tooth fairy had ripped me off.  (Needless to say, I didn’t like him much after that comment!)

So, I’m curious… how much did everyone else get for a tooth?  Or did you have another custom in your family?  🙂

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