Learning how to walk, ride a bike and other routine things...

Thursday, September 6, 2001

I wasn't sure if I should continue these little notes but there were enough questions and encouragement to keep them up that I'll send out another one. Let me know if you'd like to continue receiving them and I'll put you on the list.

As I said in my last note two weeks ago, we're settled and getting into a routine. But that said, you can't really call this existence routine when you're experiencing, seeing and learning new things every day.

Dot has settled right into her work with relish and has already been to Seoul and Beijing. Her long hours are not new to her and she is really enjoying being a major player in this startup effort. My work hasn't skipped a beat and I am able to be just as productive as before. There's kind of a satisfaction in getting a day's work done before everyone back home starts there's! It kind of makes you feel you're ahead of the game.

But the real excitement is away from work -- at least for me.

Like learning how to walk again. You may wonder what I'm talking about, but in and around the crowded and narrow sidewalks of Tokyo, walking is quite an art. It's that old eye contact thing. You make contact with that person headed at you and you're dead! You'd better dodge them or they'll run right over you. You look the other way and stay reasonably clear of others and you're quite all right.

I'm gathering that Westerners have a little bit of a problem with this. I know I do. Granted, I wouldn't walk down the streets of New York and smile at everyone and say hello. But somehow in New York or especially in Ridgefield, you at least have a feeling that you exist to the other person. Not here. When you sneak a look at someone coming toward you (every mindful not to make that eye contact) all you see is a blank stare and it's like you're on another planet somewhere.

I have found that pets are universal and everyone with a pet will always seem to smile at you, especially if you're smiling at their cute little puppy. And there are lots of dogs here and many big ones like Sparky. But mostly the small ones that you can carry easily. We couldn't get over going to the festival two weeks ago and in all that heat and humidity, it appeared to be stylish to be walking around with a little pooch in your arms.

Now, even if you're pretending to ignore everyone else on the street you do have to be a little careful of where you're headed. The other morning on my power walk, I was going along uncharted ground and found myself in quite a bit of a crowd. It was a little annoying because they were all guys and they were walking slower than the pace I wanted to keep. So I was dodging in and out and around them with little success and certainly not paying attention to where I was headed. Turns out all these guys are in uniform -- construction uniforms -- and they were headed off to their construction site. And before I knew it we were at the site and it was a dead end for me -- no place to go. The construction site security guy got quite a laugh when I showed up amongst all of these others showing their security cards and here I was in shorts and T shirt not exactly fitting in! Somehow, I got across the street where I finally got my bearings and restarted my walk, paying much closer attention to where I was headed this time.

And then the other day, I had the same problem on my bike. Now riding a bike in Tokyo is quite a challenge too, let me tell you. Picture narrow sidewalks, lots of people and then add even more people on bicycles with motor scooters to boot! It tends to get a little dicey, to say the least. You really can't ride very fast, but it's still nicer than walking everywhere. But when going so slow it is a little challenging to keep your balance. And you're still learning that eye contact thing and so you end up often times just dismounting and waiting for things to clear and looking like a chump!

I was off to find an Ice Skating Rink the other day and had charted my course on the map ahead of time. Of course, things didn't quite work out the way I'd planned them and I wasn't paying attention again. Well, I couldn't help it but the sidewalk disappeared and all of a sudden I was in the road! And it was pretty close to being an expressway -- and I was going the wrong way! Luckily, I was able to make my way over to the other side when the traffic cleared for a moment and get back on the sidewalk over there. Other than that minor incident I had a great ride around the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery and did finally find the Rink which had been my objective.

I've been able to find out that there is an English speaking instructor that I could contact there. However, if she speaks English, she must be the only one around there who does. I finally was able to get them to understand that I wanted to speak with Fukuhara-sensei and while she was in she had just started a lesson. So I decided to try to contact her by phone the next day. My main mission was accomplished. I had found the rink and also found a subway stop right next to it that is only a few stops from us!

Guess I should have known better than to try to use the phone, but I didn't and it turned out to be a disaster. Got the poor person on the other end to understand who I wanted to talk to, but it got complicated because she just wasn't in. So I tried leaving my phone number - even had it written down in Japanese so I could recite it. But the guy on the other end kept trying to correct me. It wasn't until we had both given up and hung up that I realized he was probably trying to give me Fukuhara-sensei's phone number! Well, I have yet to meet this poor woman and if she hears any of the stories about the geigin that's been trying to reach her, she'll be smart to run the other way!

After that experience, it was quite obvious that Japanese lessons were of utmost importance. Robin and Kiyo had told me that I should ask for a sample hour lesson so that's what I did and ended up finding a place just ten minutes from our place. The first time I went there was to get their sales pitch and then I came back the second time to have a scheduled hour of Japanese instruction. Dot and I had thought we'd try private lessons and so here I was face to face with this Japanese woman who spoke Japanese, French and a little English. By the time the hour was up, we were both exhausted and I am sure she is still talking about the hopeless case she encountered that day.

I asked for their advice on whether I should do private or group lessons and, probably out of relief, they said group lessons for sure. So I signed up and we had an interesting tete-a-tete when we were deciding whether I should take the two day a week class or the three day a week. The manager, of course, wanted me to take the three day class but I wasn't so sure I could keep up. I asked the woman who had just spent an eternity with me for one hour what she thought and it turns out she will be teaching the two day a week class and not the other. Well, gosh darn, she wanted me in her class! While the manager kept selling the three days (and I was buying his logic) she kept undermining his efforts but kind of gave in and I left thinking I was going for the three days a week. Well, wouldn't you know it, but my confirmation arrived today in the mail and guess who's in the two day a week class!

Of course speaking Japanese will be one thing, but reading it is totally something else. This last week we got in the mail a small brown paper envelope with what looked like advertisements in it. We get many flyers left in our mail box so I almost threw it away but decided to take a look anyway. Why, I don't know, because it was all in Kanji. However, I did notice our name was printed on it so it seemed prudent to look a little closer. There were also numbers and it began to look very much like a bill. Looking even closer, I did note something that looked like a company logo with the initials "TEPCO" on it. Did a search on the Internet and sure enough there is a Tokyo Electric Power Company and the logo matched!

They even had a "contact us" in English so I wrote them a note asking if I had received a bill or not. They actually called next morning and said yes, it was a bill and that we should pay it immediately. They also said they would send something in English which we have received, and it tells us where to look on the bill for how much we owe. So now the challenge is how do we pay it. One thing you don't do is to send them a check -- it's just not the way to do it -- I don't know why. Our other options are to go to a bank or a post office and pay the bill there. We can also fill out a form (in Kanji, of course) and get the money deducted from our bank account automatically. So now the plan is for Dottie to take everything into work and get her secretary to fill out whatever has to be done.

So we hope you are enjoying the account of these life's exciting little happenings and you should know we would like to hear of yours as well.
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