Living With Disability

Disability (n): 1. a condition (such as an illness or an injury) that damages or limits a person’s physical or mental abilities; 2. the condition of being unable to do things in the normal way : the condition of being disabled.

-Merriam Webster, 2016

It’s about time that we as a society re-evaluate how we think about disability. No able-bodied person expects to be judged on the same level as an Olympic athlete. Or to constantly prove just how able-bodied they are to the world around them. So why in the world should we thrust those same expectation in reverse upon the disabled?

And yet for those living with disability (invisible and otherwise), the social scrutiny is very real and almost unparalleled. “If you’re so disabled, why are you tagging along on your friends’ holiday?” or “If you’re so disabled, why are you at the supermarket? I thought you couldn’t move the other day.”

This happens because people generally think that their eyesight is the only qualification necessary to determine signs of able-bodiedness. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to have caught on to what magicians discovered a couple thousand years ago and that is that the human mind is surprisingly easy to trick for all it’s reasoning capabilities. That and a disability is not just an injury that results in complete inability to walk, it includes illness. There are also a number of apparatuses that can be hidden by clothes alone (i.e.: waist supporters). Relying heavily on visuals alone renders an incomplete portraiture of the disabled community.

And I’ve had to learn this the hard way. I’ve lived on three sides of the issue: as a fully functional individual who lived a good 24 years without disability, as a wheelchair-walker-cane wielding invalid, and as the kind of person who can pass as looking functional… until the nerves in my spine start acting up again.

When I was fully functional, it did not personally behoove me to think about the struggles of the disabled in any great depth. As in, until I was personally affected, I wasn’t particularly keen on counting the number of handicap spaces at the local grocery or if the hand rails were up to code. During the time I had to use the wheelchair and eventually a walker/cane to get around, most people could lump an apparatus to a body and not ask twice about the wherefores of my activities. There were no angry “Did you just see her push that automatic door button? Lazy-ass millennial!” following me around. More often than not they were religiously and awkwardly inclined to offer unhelpful advice about my condition. Also known as: If I hear another “God bless you, child, the Lord has plans for you” speech in my life I will scream. And finally, as someone who schleps about with back/nerve pain (plus a torn plantar fascia muscle), but who doesn’t “look” disabled, it still amazes me how people  who don’t know anything about my life and hold zero doctoral or medical degrees can still say things like, “You’re not actually hurt. Go see a therapist.” Seriously.

It seems as if every week that passes there’s some new story on the internet about some busy body writing out a letter shaming a seemingly non-disabled person for parking in a handicap spot. While I’m sure there are numerous politic or scientifically appropriate words available to describe the psychology behind the people who do this kind of thing, my personal view is that it’s rather telling of individuals lacking in critical thinking skills.

And if that sounds harsh, keep in mind that until you’ve had to live with an invisible disability (or ANY disability at all), you don’t know how awful or how good people can be… unless you’ve witnessed someone receiving this kind of treatment first hand. It’s that strange dichotomy you may have heard of before and it’s called “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

So, we do try (because we’ll be damned anyways). Trying leads to finding new ways to accomplish old tasks. Life doesn’t get easier, we just get better at it. As if that weren’t enough, we get to find out first hand who our real friends are, who was only there for the good times, and who wants to put us down simply for not fitting into a narrow box of stereotypes about the disabled. Living life to the fullest takes on a new urgency and meaning, especially in terms of trying to find joy and distraction from the pain/challenges. Simple day to day things for a disabled person can range anywhere from mildly daunting to feeling like an event straight out of the able-bodied Olympics. Gravity, we learn, is not just a force of physics but also a heartless bitch (to paraphrase one Sheldon Cooper).

Oh, and that humanity comes in two flavors: awesome forces of good and awesome forces of awful.

The simple fact of the matter is: If you don’t know whether that person is actually disabled or not, don’t assume. It’s one thing if you hear them boasting about how they use their grandmother’s car to defraud the public, it’s something completely different if you have an unsubstantiated opinion.

You don’t know what medication this person has had to swallow just to get out of bed. You don’t know the sacrifices they’ve made to get to the point where they can finally venture out from solely living between the doctor’s office and their own four walls. You don’t know how much energy it takes to smile even though the last thing they want to do is pretend to be happy. But we do it for our friends and family, more importantly we do it for ourselves because you gotta fake it till you make it.

When you tell someone that they can’t possibly in too much pain because they’re doing something painful but that makes them happy, what you’re essentially saying is that people living with disability have no right to find a reason to live. That they must shut themselves away in a world of depression, that it’s better for them not to try, and that their only worth to society is as a stereotypical confirmation of everything you think is true about disability.

I can’t imagine what kind of misery these people are living that they feel they must leave notes on stranger’s cars or to be enraged by the fact that someone doesn’t want to be alone and trapped in a house for three days when instead they could spend it with friends one last time.

In any case, it’s not our job to prove just how awful a disability is by shutting ourselves in. We shouldn’t be shamed into constantly looking as ill as we feel or to become depressed to prove that we are in fact struggling with everyday life. And it’s time we shed light on this, because even though the able-bodied may outnumber the disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the able-bodied will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Five Times The Pink Panther Accurately Summed Up What It’s Like Teaching English Abroad

And it looks like I’m staying for one final year in Japan. Two years was just the right amount of time to get my life sorted; unfortunately, I’m not quite ready to say good-bye just yet. It’s been a long road. It’s a longer one to come. The papers are signed, the decision made. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu, JET 2016-2017.

A lot of my friends in the States have, at one point or another, expressed curiosity on what it’s like to teach English abroad. The myths and realities as expressed through the five times that The Pink Panther suddenly became too real for words…

1. WE DO NOT QUIT!!!

“Your life must be so glamorous, living abroad and teaching English to Japanese kids!” Glamorous is one word for it. And then there’s this…

…I do enjoy every minute of it even though I wouldn’t call it glamorous 😉

2. Why would they do something like that?

“I hear Japan is soooooo high tech! You must be going to all crazy-amazing robot conventions every weekend and never want to come back to the US, right?” The hard cold reality is…

…and not only that: my office is (somehow) still running on XP. Why would they do something like that?!

3. Why do you think they’re dressed like that? For fun?!

Doing anything for the kids on Halloween is basically along these lines. Also applies to generally trying to blend in with society when the clothes just look different on you than on the cute models (TTwTT)”

4. It is one of my specialties…

So, I can do things, I swear, I can! Sometimes, though, I can’t show them off perfectly because of cultural differences.

Can’t bake half the Viennese pastries I learned how to make because Japan and it’s non-baking culture. It’s still fun trying, though 😀

5. I thought you were ordering in Italian.

That moment when you suddenly become Vincenzo Roccara Squarcialupi Brancaleone at the local Starbucks… or anywhere, really.

Happy Friday, everyone!

An Abundance of Apples… And Then Some

The final chapter in the sixth years’ quest to grow the perfect apples and the fifth years’ rice farming experience. No matter how many times I participate, it’s always invigorating to see my kids learning something for the first time: the fumbled guesses, the hair raising stumbles, and the beautiful ‘A-HA!’ light bulb moments. It just never ever gets old.

Children are incredulously and incredibly, well, incredible. I know this explains nothing, but there are no better words for all the funny, candid moments I get with them. The things they say, the ways in which they problem solve. Every precious victory is cause for day long celebration, every failure a drama worthy of a season on HBO. Kids are so full of life, everything is so new to them. And it’s been a real privilege and an honor to be taken along for the ride.

I almost want to pitch a documentary series to NatGeo about kids and how they grow up around the world.

 

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Fancy Mashed Potatoes

With autumn practically having arrived weeks ago (oh, sweet Aomori), the air is chilled and the days grow short(er). The desire to consume pumpkins and potatoes grows exponentially… and so this filler recipe post is for the potato lovers of this world, the far from home and craving Thanksgiving food in a foreign country variety, and for anyone who really hasn’t got time for fancier meals.

Bon appetit!

Serves 1

1 large potato
1 medium garlic clove
Unsalted butter
Salt
Black pepper
Rosemary
Cayenne pepper

1. Take your potato, nicely washed and peeled (unless you adore peels but ideally scrubbed well regardless), and stab the daylights out of it. You cando this with a fork or knife, in either case after a long day at work it’s quite cathartic ;D

2. Place potato in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the potato and garlic clove. As the water boils on high (because ain’t nobody got time for medium or low) toss in your salt, black pepper, rosemary, and cayenne pepper to taste. Feel free to mix up your own spice combo, too, if any of the above doesn’t rock your world. Cumin and tumeric would make for great curried mashed potato variation.

3. As you go about your laundry washing and apartment cleaning, check in on your potato once in a while to compare water level and the rate at which it begins to soften. Punch in a couple more holes if it’s not softening on par with dropping water level or add more water. When the water level reaches to just covering the surface of the saucepan immediately lower the heat to low. Cut a chunk of butter and stir in while mashing. The more butter you use, the creamier and more buttery it’ll be (but also the unhealthier) so make sure you cut small chunks and add and smash in gradually until it reaches the consistency that you desire.

4. And as you vacuum and sweep tatami, savor that mashed potato; you’ve earned it ;D

Honshu in 1 Week: If there’s one thing I learned…

…about Japan during this whole trip – or so Kimmy said as we were finally en route to Tokyo – it’s that this country is extremely mountainous.

This was after the hundredth dozen set of tunnels we’d passed through. As beautiful of a scenery as we experienced in the early days of the trip, the second half was marked with progressively longer stretches of inter-mountain tunnels, one after another. This was the last leg. Really, I’ve been blessed with such amazing, adventurous friends. This is our short tale of one last hurrah on the open road, our last 7 days as partners in crime…

DAY 1: On the Road Again

Load the car with a year’s worth of luggage, blast a deafening amount of music through the speakers, and drive for as long as humanly possible, or twelve straight hours to be more exact. Mix in an unhealthy dose of Lawson’s coffee and stir liberally.

Oh, conbinis. How you shall be missed. They practically ensured that we could continue driving well past bed time. Sadly, it was the lack of 24 hour gas stations that finally grounded us at 2am in Niigata City at a Michi no Eki (roadside station). Otherwise we would’ve driven until reaching Fukui.

DAY 2: There Be Dinosaurs in Fukui

Having driven the entire length of the first day, I was relegated the duty of morning rest in the backseat while Kim and Elena sped past prefectures until early afternoon, after which I was much recovered from the caffeine crash.

We managed to make it past Kanazawa in record time, well after the lunch rush and the timing worked out like a charm.

Travel Tip 1: Start early in the morning. We left Imabetsu by 5pm because of work obligations earlier in the day but we would have covered so much more ground if we’d started early morning.

But don’t be fooled, this type of travel is not for the finicky or faint of heart. Michi no Eki are fluorescent lit and bug infested. Cicadas in the toilets, Aragogs in the ceilings of the bathrooms… and then there’s the little matter of what was once known as the Circadian Rhythm. Curtains and modernity have largely made it possible for humanity to ignore the call of nature, or rather the call to awake at the wee hours of 4am by summer standards. If I could do it all over again, I would have invested in a sleeping mask.

Travel Tip 2: However, when it can’t be helped or for the late night to early morning drivers there is a sizeable toll road discount if the car is equipped with an ETC and so long as drivers manage to exit by 4am.

For every stop we made, be it for gas or bathroom breaks (or as became more frequently: for both), we were set back anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes. Factor in breaks and switches if you’ll be on a particularly tight schedule, otherwise if time is of little to no consequences: carpe diem!

Fukui is known for potatoes, mackerel, and dinosaurs. Home to the adorable Fukuisaurus (a legitimate dinosaur, I assure you), there is a science center and dinosaur museum with enough exhibits to keep adults and children occupied all day.

We had only a couple of hours to kill. BUT IT WAS THE BEST!!!!

Not only were “traditional” dinosaurs (the ones we all knew and studied as children) represented, but the museum had a special exhibit for dinosaurs found and dug up on the Asian continent and Pacific. Fukuisaurus was among them, that adorable if derpy hadrosaur.

From the museum and our well-deserved rest, we hastened ourselves back onto the road. Time was of the essence. We had already set back for an extra night, a unanimous decision in a bid to see more of Shimane by the next day.

And it was well worth our sacrifice for an extra night in Tokyo.

DAY 3: The Land of 8 Million Gods and 1 Bunny Rabbit

Izumo Taisha, Matsue Castle… of the list of possibilities, including a possible seaside excursion or trip to a lighthouse, we narrowed down on the two closest. Kyushu had to happen that same night – or never, the hostel was kind enough to let us arrive a day late and we didn’t want to be unreasonably mucha.

Travel Tip 3: For a more luxurious experience, and given enough time, camp your way across Japan. Michi no Eki are a last resort and for the purposes of this trip, given our particular situational parameters, there were our only resort. But a nature resort (no pun intended), is a gorgeous way to get the woodsy back roads experience of Honshu. Make reservations a month in advance.

By the time we crossed the bridge into Kyushu, we were weathered a little worse for wear but still spirited enough to freak out for a hour later as we drove to our little hell-side hostel in Oita Prefecture. Also, the humidity was working wonders for our skin.

DAY 4: The Hells of Beppu

Never been so glad to find myself in hell before, in a manner of speaking. To have made it safely to our primary goal, exhilarating in its own right, received a further energy boost as we appreciated the natural geysers and mineral hot spring waters known as the Hells of Beppu.  Japan’s small scale version of Yellowstone NP, is impressive in its variety of geologic activity if not land masse. The colors were brilliant from milk white to blood red and crystalline stained glass blue.

There was one hell that got away, pressed for time we had to leave for Fukuoka City where Kim was able to partake of some second to last minute Pokemon Center shopping. Once we were all done with omiyage and merchandise, it was yet again time to hit the long road to Miyajima for a night and early morning exploring the geology and scenery of the island.

DAY 5: 1945

Hiroshima is a beautiful city. Lovely riverside walks wind you through a cityscape of modernity and to the vestiges of a fateful day in 1945. The past and the present merge perfectly into each other in Hiroshima and there is no better place to witness it than at the Peace Memorial Park and the attached museum which chronicles a single day of infamy: August 6, 1945.

The museum packs an emotional and psychological punch so be prepared to spend an hour or so sitting on a a quiet bench in the park after your visit. Educational in its history and uplifting in its message of eternal hope, I highly advise all Americans to pay the 50 yen to enter.

Travel Tip 4: The museum has free parking.

DAY 6: Nagoya

 From Hiroshima we made our way to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. Yet again, we were attempting to tick off another Pokemon Center off of Kim’s list, all the while oblivious to the fact that much like the hell that got away there was a Pokemon Center that got away as well: Hiroshima’s. Sigh. But, it gives us reason to go back some day, right?

Travel Tip 5: THROW OUT ALL YOUR TRASH AT EVERY REST STOP! And remember: that which you buy, yes even that deliciously chocolatey Parm bar, you will have to trash later.

Nagoya is the center of technological advances, Japan’s Silicon Valley but specifically in robotics. However, we didn’t have much time to explore at this point. Kim had a plane to catch early the next morning and we still had to find a suitable place to ditch the car in Yokohama (wherein there was yet another Pokemon Center that needed to be crossed off the list).

But after a lovely breakfast as Denny’s, we hit the city mall for clothes shopping and the last Pokemon Center.

Travel Tip 6: Pack for an appropriate number of days. Otherwise you’ll be living out of collectible prefecture T-shirts.

Nagoya reminded me of a less crowded and slightly shinier version of Tokyo. Reminded myself to try living there sometime in the future if possible.

Something must be said about Michi no Eko on the East Side of Honshu though. Where on the Sea of Japan side they’re few and far between, not to mention run down, the Pacific side has some amazing rest stops. Food courts, Starbucks, more gas stations… in short a luxury compared to driving on the west side.

DAY 7: Haneda Airport and Aomori Bound

Dropped Kim off at the airport early in the morning and stayed with her until she went through customs.

Travel Tip 7: Ignore Siri once you’re sure you’re on the highway Tohoku-bound/back to wherever you’re going. She attempted to be helpful by rerouting us through Tokyo. It took us THREE HOURS to find our way though traffic and back on the toll.

In case you missed it from Travel Tip 7, this is where the nightmares began. Not only did Siri seem to think driving on the mean streets of Tokyo would mean a faster exit from the city (I assure you, it was quite the contrary), she also somehow had the bright idea that driving straight through Fukushima’s SEASIDE was somehow okay.

For those of you who do not recall, Fukushima Prefecture’s coast was the site of the failed nuclear reactor. So at this point Elena and I had to create our own custom route, constantly looking ahead to make sure that Siri would not derail us from our path.

It’s an eerie experience driving in the dead of night through a prefecture that’s been the sight of a disaster. There were few lights in the towns and cities. We even cut the air conditioning early to make sure we didn’t breath any of the outside air, a precaution we took because of genetic predispositions to cancer and an unwillingness to tempt fate. Once we were past the line separating Fukushima from Miyagi, we resumed our air conditioning and relaxed.

By the time we rolled up to the hills of Gonohe, it was dawn. We watched the sun break it’s watery red glow across the horizon at the local park and then crashed from the physical and mental exhaustion for a good couple of hours.

Adventures in Shimane Prefecture

   
    
    
    
    
    
 

Yesterday. Shimane in one day. No rest for the adventurous……

Edit: okay now that I’ve had time to sleep and process everything, time for some explanations.

Shimane Prefecture is known for Izumo Taisha, a grand shrine dedicated to the god Okuninushi and is the seat of the gods’ meeting for one month of the year. 

According to legend, Okuninushi is the deity of good relationships and marriage, a status he achieved after helping out an adorable white bunny with a bad skin condition and winning the hand of the princess of Inaba.

The castle is well worth a visit as it is one of the twelve original castles that have gone through little renovations or alterations. 

And lastly, the tree trunk. It saw 320 years of history before being chopped down in 2007. 

   
    
   

The English Menu, or Why I Am A Horrible Human Being…

theenglishmenu

“Hello. Welcome. Table for two.” A hand shows the number two visually.

“はい、二人です。”

We are seated. We reach for menus and peruse while the waiter waits, watches us silently for a few moments. We’ve started speaking only to each other, unaware that he is still there, and are taking our time pointing out options to each other. This is mistaken as ineptitude.

“English menu?” he helpfully materializes an English version of the laminate copy. Any other time, I would be grateful. But this is the fifth time at the same restaurant with the same waiter and it’s been a long, long day. I glance across the table where stormy eyes concur with unsaid words. I turn suddenly to the waiter.

“ああ、大丈夫。読める。” I make an attempt at informal Japanese to show I actually can speak informally as well. Dark eyes blink back, slightly confused but the English menu spirited away from sight. Believing, I have established all information we needed to continue with dinner, we peruse at our leisure. We speak of silly things and serious things, we laugh at inside jokes, pointing out delicious options.

Five minutes pass in this way, until the waiter returns with a pitcher of water in one hand and…

…the English menu in another.

My mind screams in horror long before I’ve caught up with it. The pitcher of water is set down and the English menu dropped on the table where it cannot be ignored. To my very core, I am frozen, a mixture of emotions.

Shock. Laughter. Confusion. Fury. Despair. I want to cry. I want to laugh. Mostly I want to have dinner for once in my life, with the full comprehension that I know what I’m doing with a Japanese menu in my hand. Powder and sparks and consuming kisses, iambic pentameter, the sound of the atom bomb tests, Beethoven’s explosive fifth symphony… I think in sound, I think primarily in music. It’s all going through my head at the speed of light and anger wins before the rest of the emotions can catch up.

That all takes a millisecond to process. A fraction of a breath. I bend over across the table laughing into the hard wood surface, my arms encircling my head because I’m afraid of what I may do if he’s still around when I look up. I wait until I’m absolutely sure he is no longer near us. I surface for air.

“That’s it. I’m going to order in keigo.”

“What. No.”

We “argue”, my dinner partner and I, bantering about how we shall order in absolutely perfect Japanese keigo (or not order in such a way until we leave for our road trip and know for a fact that our passive aggressive actions will never negatively impact us).

“No, you’re right that’s just too rude. But still. I really want to order in keigo.” Internally, I tell myself that I might just wear my Waseda sweat shirt next time I go in. A sweat shirt made for autumn weather worn in the middle of summer is sure to illicit some response. Any response to the fact that I may not speak like a native but I can very well order at a restaurant.

Once we are quite sure that we know what we will order, we push the magic button that calls our waiter over and I speed speak through my order to show I’m not going to stumble through the conversation, I even give an explanation for why I can’t eat rice (allergy) and if it would alright to substitute it for naan. It’s not perfect, because I did slip up that last bit of grammar but I made myself more than intelligible.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time. It’s a performance piece we repeat ad nauseum, at every restaurant, and it eventually takes its toll on your self-confidence as a JSL (Japanese as a Second Language) speaker. Deep down inside you may know you’ve done it right, you’ve grammar-ed and words-ed your way through the linguistic minefield of what may be the exact opposite of how your native tongue works, and yet you will be rejected by looks alone.

He walks away even more confused than before. A different waiter comes to deliver the food. I’m unsure whether it’s worked or not, but we’re getting curry one last time before Kimmy leaves so, the fruits of our labor will be made known to us then. I feel like a horrible human being, relishing in the satisfaction of having pulled passive aggression on anyone. There are not buts to that sentence. I let it stand as is.

Writing Exercise 01: The Character

“People should feel more as they become older, not less.”

– Page One Adventures

character

Introvert. Too talkative. Emotionally repressive. Intellectual. Stupid. Passive aggressive. Inability to express emotions verbally. Socially awkward. Eloquent. Anxious in social situations. Perfectionist. Head in the clouds. Works too hard. Depressive. Creative. Cliche. Imaginative. Communist. Feminist. Republican. Pro-life. Pro-gays. Anti-life. Anti-gays. Mexican. American. Middle Eastern. Indian. Racially ambiguous. Catholic. Did not want to do her first Communion. Musically inclined. Auditory learner. Partially deaf. Needs glasses. Immature. Insightful. Needs to work harder. Easily bored. Should have been aborted. When I became pregnant with you, I didn’t need to be on my medication anymore. Argumentative. First child syndrome. Older sister. Messy. Authoritative. Hippie. Responsible.

I think of you as a child because you’re always saying you’re too cold. You argue like a child. You argue like a textbook. Stop arguing back. You were like my lawyer when your mom and sister jumped on me over the smallest of things. Good daughter. Political black sheep. Too emotional. Honor student. Average. Below average. Above average. Condescending. Down to Earth. We all thought you would be the one who’d go places and do amazing things. Geek. Nerd. Needs to settle down. Get a real job. Do what you love. Unrealistic. Likes to win. Team player. Over-achiever. Frigid. Blames others. Under-achiever. Assumes all the blame. Devil’s advocate. Too physical. Overly optimist. Too pessimistic for her age. Too direct. Doesn’t get to the point. Adventurous. Recluse. Don’t pick her for the basketball team. Tall. Uncoordinated. Agile. Ugly. Pretty. Big nose. Too thin. Too fat. Unhealthy. Athletic. Overly analytical, to the point of detriment.

Too liberal. Serious. Needs to learn to laugh. Too conservative. Laughs too much. Cry baby. Unsophisticated. Intolerant. Aloof. Best friend. The worst. Impatient. Always so patient with clients. Leaps before she thinks. Thinks she knows everything. Pick her for the group project. Ask her to lower her grade on the chem exam so we can all be graded on the curve. Sit next to her on the day of the test. Ask her for the answer. Freak. Theoretical. Why are you studying something like Politics if you can out-perform the majors in the Geology department who have been studying this for years? Not detail oriented. Why are you studying Politics if you don’t even know what you want to do in the field? No self confidence. Overly subsumed by the details. Does all the extra credit. Does enough to get by in class. Humanities.

Needs improvement. A+. B. C. D. F. In danger of failing. Four eyes. Academic excellence. Witty. Boring. Caring. Thoughtful. Over dramatic. Shares pencils. Reads a lot too much. Mean. Rude. Selfish. I hate you. Kind. Shy. Giving. Always there for others. I love you. Verbalizes complaints too much. Doesn’t say enough. Speaks her mind. Asset to the department. Asks management too many questions. Doesn’t like being told what to do. Goody two shoes always does what she’s told. She’s just always so cheerful. Why are you always so depressing? Failure. Successful. First baccalaureate degree holder in family. I’m glad I met you. What are you doing with your life?

This began as a writing experiment. What kind of character would I be if I had to write myself truthfully in a bildungsroman? Would I even want to be friends with myself? These are the echoes of characteristics/phrases that have been used to describe me or my life situation (as spoken to me by people I have met during my 23 years of life). I used family and friends. Teachers, professors, psychologists. From elementary school, junior high, high school. From college. Of course, from now as well. What we see as a positive trait and what we see as a negative trait will vary. Which is which?

So what is a character? What is a person? Are they simply a list of attributes, personal and physical, like the one above? Are they a spectrum  that slides around on a three-dimensional graph? Is there a point of no return? It’s been an interesting journey, going through those memories of all those years and all those fights and laughs alike but I’m no closer to answering the set of questions that I originally posed myself. In fact, I’ve started to ask more questions than ever before. About myself and about others. About my relationship with myself and my relationship with others. How I perceive and am perceived in return.

How do we maintain a semblance of authenticity in a world that is constantly expecting more and more, that rejects who we are, and in some cases tries to fix us. Or depending on how you view it, tries to help us become better versions of ourselves? At what point do we draw the line between societal expectations and being “who we are”? At what point are we responsible for others, if at all? When as an adult you no longer exude the brimming excitement and curiosity of a child, does that mean you’ve successfully matured? Or are you dead inside? And if at twenty three you’re still too excited to embark on an adventure in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a prefecture with nothing but nature and rice fields, are you a childish adult who needs to grow up? Or are you simply trying to keep yourself alive inside? It’s so easy for media, for books, for specialists, for everyone to say “Be yourself” without truly exploring the full ramifications of such advice. Being yourself is just as likely to get you passed up for a promotion as it is to make you the hero of the next Pixar or Disney film. But more importantly…

…At what point, is it enough simply to be?

Hallway Inspiration 02: Live Long and Rainbow On!

Japanese hallways are the best. I feel that if I look hard enough, I could make this into a legit once a week article.

In the meantime, I bring to you the latest hallway inspiration, which I endearingly titled “Clean Water: Live Long and Rainbow On”. Japanese schools come in two neutral color schemes: beige or white. Or both. But this may just be the inaka experience (one of my schools is about to celebrate its 150th anniversary so it follows in the general tradition of We Are Rebuilding The School And This Is The Way The Walls Have Always Been Painted). For the most part, though, it doesn’t really matter what color the walls are because teachers like to plaster them with motivational posters like the one above or with announcements for upcoming museum exhibits, concerts, and other interesting educational events going around the prefecture. And then there’s this one… oh the spectra.

The colors are flawless, that is true, but the centerpiece obaachan is even more brilliantly rendered. Her pose suggests the grace of having aged marvelously well (arthritis, gout, and diabetes are clearly for the non-water drinkers of the world; sorry, Hemmingway) while still bringing forth that inner strength, that inner force of character which only the elderly can posses after two world wars and several market crashes. Above the fanfare, above the modernity, it is the final message that shines clearest and nearest to all of our hearts: drink clean water and you too can live a long, rainbow sparkly life. Otsukare~ 😉

 

Life In Japan When You Can’t Eat The Rice

So I’ve been living in Japan for almost a year and if there is one thing that I absolutely have not eaten in the past eight months it’s…

ricefail

Yep. Rice. The main product of the Land of the Rising Sun and the literal word for meal in the Japanese phrase for ‘Have you eaten, yet?’ is, to put it mildly, my mortal enemy. To make matters even more complicated, the frequency and subsequent severity of the symptoms only started four years ago. It has since become crippling in a country where rice is eaten on the regular, three times a day, every day.

This post is for the rice allergic/intolerant people of the world, we (seemingly) few who must live out our days scourging the aisles of the Lawson’s for bread that does not contain rice flour and who must inform all well-meaning hosts that we cannot in fact attend the dinner in our honor if rice is on our plate (everyone else should be fine).

“But you’re, like, (insert mixed ancestry here). Every time I go over to my Mexican friends’ houses they always seem to have Mexican rice for dinner.” -Friend A

Mexican culture has sadly been reduced to Taco Bell and whatever happens to be on the home menu depending on when guests come over (rice is cheap and filling… and deadly to my internal organs, sadly). Also, just because something happens to be ethnic food or commonly eaten in a given culture, doesn’t mean that people born and raised in said culture can’t be allergic to that food. Rice, admittedly, has a very low allergen report rate compared to peanuts and other well-documented food allergies.

“Here, just try a little bit. This onigiri was made using only the best of premium Japanese rice, the kind that only rich people can afford and that poor folk dream about; organically grown and straight from my wife’s family’s farm from the one prefecture in this entire country where it is said the rice is the most delicious. Oh and they only use fresh mountain river water to flood the fields. You can’t be allergic to this.” -Coworker B

I can and I am. Okay so maybe I took some creative liberty with the wording about the mountain river water (although according to my super, whom I asked, it was true about the rich people can only afford thing and that there is a designated prefecture that can claim to have the best rice. Congrats to Niigata).

But in all in all I only try to highlight a handful of experiences that I’ve had. But trust me it’s not going to get any easier explaining time and again that yes, your lunch sans rice is more than filling enough, and that, no, you’re really quite very much sure at this point that premium rice from Niigata will cause you the same reactions as rice from Hokkaido.

What does rice allergy/intolerance look like? Everyone, of course, is different. For example, I know of people who can eat rice just fine but as soon as summer rolls around they must resort to wearing masks for fear of rice pollen entering their nostrils and thus bringing about a very near death sentence. Or maybe eating the rice and inhaling the rice pollen are just fine but harvest season is a veritable inferno because you’re allergic to the rice stalks that are burned throughout October and November.

I’m of the ‘pollen and burning stalks are fine but I can’t eat it’ variety. If you, like me, experience stomach pains, loss of digestive capabilities, and/or throw up the contents of your stomach with each bowl of rice… then congratulations, you may have rice allergy/intolerance! Now on to the stuff that will help save your life and/or cope with not being able to eat 90% of what is produced in Japan.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LIVING IN JAPAN WITH A RICE ALLERGY

1. Rice flour can be in anything. They put it in bread and other things that you wouldn’t traditionally think of as having rice. You’ll have to learn the kanji for rice and its onyomi and kunyomi derivatives just to be on the safe side: kome, ine, meshi, gohan, and mama (this last one is in Nanbu-ben).

2. Senbei is rice. It’s puffed rice that doesn’t look like rice but it’s still rice. And it shows up at drinking parties 100% of the time. Dango is rice. Mochi is also rice. Manju is rice.

3. Rice is rice. You may not need reminding but your coworkers will try to helpfully point out that maybe if only you cooked oats with your rice that your stomach will start to digest it properly or that maybe you just need to eat the higher grade stuff. Nope.

4. School lunch will always have rice. If you can get by on eating kyushoku with just the side dishes then you’re golden. I formally withdrew from the school lunch system eight months ago and it has made life easier but there are other options.

5. Restaurants price food rigidly. You will not be paying less or getting more of something else to compensate for the fact that you’ll be orderimg the tempura without the rice. Makes for interesting meal combinations, though.

6. There is no whole wheat bread. If your body can’t handle white bread either then you’re running on slim options. Bread making is quite the industry in Japan and a slew of electronic companies have impressive lines of bread making machines on the market. If you can find a reliable purveyor of whole wheat flour (expensive, but not unbudgetable) then that will create more variety in your diet.

7. Learn your symptoms, if you don’t know them already. Some allergies manifest later in life or suddenly worsen.

8. You’ll have to get used to smiling and pointing out in a soft and unobtrusive voice that you’re really, really sorry but you can’t eat what’s on your plate because you may possibly die and/or suffer physical pain.

9. Make sure your allergy is known early on. I was in denial at first. Lessons were learned the hard way.

10. Make everyone else feel comfortable eating rice and remind coworkers that you don’t really need omiyage or that you’re more than happy to hear their travel stories in lieu of a gift. More on omiyage later, but for now let’s just call them souvenirs. One colleague surprised the office with funny and interesting postcards from Niigata because apparently Niigata = Rice Eaters Only and he didn’t want me to feel left out. I’m forever grateful to him and for his thoughtfulness (cries tears of gratitude)

11. Compile a list of doctors and hospitals, their phone numbers, and have all this information stored on your phone for easy access. Keep in mind that inaka clinic hours are different than city hours and English speakers are RARE here. The hospital in my town can only afford to keep its clinic running in the morning and does not admit anyone in the afternoon unless it’s quite clear that said person is dying on them. And even then…

12. Make sure you have emergency contacts and their information on hand. Basics but worth mentioning especially if it’s your first time experiencing a late onset allergy/intolerance as an adult.

You may even find yourself loving rice but being unable to eat it. I love dango. And mochi. And senbei. I think they taste amazing and what wouldn’t I give to be able to eat them like everyone else. Best thing is not to be in denial, get the tests, make the changes, and just look back fondly on your days with rice as enka worthy bittersweet memories.