Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Japan - Part Two

Turns out it's a lot harder to sit down and write when Nick is home.  So here, a week later, is part two of Japan. Friday morning was moving day for Kristi. It was such a shame that her husband Ben had to leave to meet his ship just five days before they could move in, leaving everything up to Kristi, who's been quite the trooper. I rolled up to her house armed with McDonald's coffee and already the movers were unloading crates bringing boxes and furniture into her new home. Several other friends were there to pass Ryan (left) around, help direct box traffic, and make furniture placement decisions. Personally, having just gone through my own move, I cannot imagine having to make all of these decisions on my own, especially when two little guys and their things are also involved. But Kristi did a great job taking it one box at a time and, once again, showed a kind of strength only found in navy wives and navy moms.

My favorite part of the day was when I stumbled over a pile of books the movers unpacked in the living room. On top of the stack was the all too familiar Smart Moves. For those of you who don't know, this is the book my mom wrote back in the 80s/90s. And yes, appropriately, it's a book on moving! My mom actually gave this copy to Nick and me in 2007 when we had orders to Virginia Beach. We never ended up moving, so in 2008 when the time came for Kristi and Ben to move unexpectedly to Hawaii, I passed the book on to them. And here we are, together... in Japan... on moving day. Who'd of thought?

When my contribution to unpacking was at a stopping point, Mary and Annika picked me up and we met up with her friend Mari for an evening of Japanese cultural enlightenment, a perfect way to spend my last night in Japan. From what I learned, the Japanese celebrate the change of seasons, and apparently the full moon at harvest time is supposed to be one of the most beautiful.  So on one of the first days of fall, we went to Yokahama's Sankeien Gardens in search of the harvest moon (despite the fact that it had been overcast and rainy for two solid days). It is at this point I would love to copy/paste Mari's blog post about the evening so you could get all the rich detail and cultural significance. I will be limited to describing what I remember.

Upon entering the park, we were greeted by this beautiful pagoda over a lake. It's one of those unique views that triggers your brain to confirm, "yes, we are in Japan." After admiring the gardens for a bit with the day's remaining sunlight, we had a delish bowl of mushroom udon soup (I am now obsessed with noodle soup) and tea (I am now hyper-obsessed with tea, as I was previously pretty devoted).  It's the perfect meal, really.

Next we found ourselves stumbling upon a gift shop that did a touristy version of a traditional tea ceremony. At this point, I was so thankful that Mari had been taking "tea ceremony classes" (yes, such a thing exists), so she could explain what everything meant. According to Mari, the whole purpose of a tea ceremony is to show respect to honored guests and to appreciate beauty and nature and seasons. You do so by sipping a bowl of frothy green tea (which I later regretted doing whilst wide awake at 3am... completely forgot about the caffeine content!) and nibbling on these tiny sweet tea cakes.  Of course, there's a lot more to it than that in terms of the order of events, the significance, even how you hold the teacup.  I suggest anyone who wants to learn more should take a tea ceremony class, because that's all I've got!
Me with the tea ceremony lady
Leaving the gift shop, we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful music. We were looking around for speakers to figure out where it was coming from when we turned a corner and realized we were being serenaded with a live concert! The guy on stage was playing a stringed instrument I didn't recognize and had never heard before. Playing on a beautifully lit stage above a lake with a backdrop of thoughtfully illuminated treetops, the musician was such a wonderful surprise and well made up for the fact that we weren't able to see the moon. We continued our walk around the lake looking at ornate, yet simple buildings and impressive forests of towering bamboo while enjoying the sounds of the beautifully flowing string music. All in all, it was a perfect way to spend my last night in Japan.

Chen Zhen playing the two-stringed Asian violin (thanks Mari!)
Bamboo forest
The whole Japan trip was an amazing experience on so many levels. One layer was getting to explore a new culture that is so foreign from my own. The people in Japan are so polite and helpful. They rival Texans for some of the nicest people I have ever met. However, certain things about their culture made some of America's flaws seem even more glaring. For instance, outside the train station by Mary's house, I was dumbfounded to see hundreds of bicycles parked en masse and not a single one of them was locked. I mean, bike theft was even a problem in Coronado, one of the lowest crime cities in the country. What floored me even more was to hear that you do have to lock your bikes on the navy base in Japan. What that says to me is that apparently when you're surrounded by Americans, your property must be chained down or it's fair game. Sad, right?

Another interesting level of observation on this trip was realizing just how much Guam really is like America. We're only a 3-hour flight from our friends on American bases in Japan, so I'd previously lumped us all in as "over there" type people. But after spending a week exchanging money to yen, speaking with hand gestures, and riding around on the left side of the road (which at times was terrifying!), it put into perspective just how much Guam really is like America and that we really haven't gone anywhere that terribly foreign. When I walked into our house that night after getting back, it really felt like home. And as much fun as I'd had, it was still so, so good to be home.

Finally, the best and most memorable part of the trip was being in such a foreign place and yet finding myself among friends. It was so great to see Mary and Annika and Kristi and Ryan and Will. While I love a lot of the new friends I've made in Guam, it has also felt like the past two months have been jam-packed with small talk.  It's never fun trying to get to know new people and starting from scratch with friendships. It was so nice to be among people whose backstories I already knew, and who already knew mine. Especially when we found out about Amy's husband. It was comforting to be around friends who know her. It also made me realize what a truly incredible group of friends I've been a part of in San Diego. And it made me miss everyone that much more.

Thinking about these friends just now, I can't help but mention what's really on my heart and mind. Today was Brendan Looney's memorial service and burial at Arlington National Cemetery. My thoughts and prayers are very much with Amy and the friends who were able to be there to comfort her. I can't imagine how hard it was to be there... and yet, it's hard not being there too. And in fact, the hardest part of all begins now, with somehow moving forward.

As I look out my window and see the breezy palm trees, energizing blue sky and radiant sunshine, I am reminded what a glorious world we live in. I am also reminded that it's by taking memories of beautiful moments like these with us that will get us through the storms. Rest in peace, Brendan. May our collective memories of you and your sacrifice push us all to be better spouses, better friends, better Americans. 

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