Friday, July 13, 2012

Biting Critters

I'm itching and scratching and it won't stop!

And I'm sitting here with stinging palms from trying to catch a THING which may or may not be a gnat, the latest icky bug creature I have to be horrified about, after what happened to Vicky today.

It's most probably mosquitoes, our annual nemesis and scourge of summer. For two nights this week, we had one in our bedroom. You hear it buzzing by your ear, but you just know that if you turn on the light to try to find it, it won't make an appearance. So you try to get back to sleep, hoping there's still some juice in the 'earth no mat' (does anyone have any idea why the heck electric/potion mozzie repellant thingies are called that in Japan? Apart from 'electric/potion mozzie repellant thingie being a really dumb name?), and hoping that not being able to currently hear it means it has actually gone. Which it never has, of course, it's always just before you drift off that you hear that bzzzzz again.

So we spent two sleepless, ITCHY nights, making me wonder just how much blood one mother mozzie needs - does she just keep topping up with fresh blood until she finds somewhere to lay her eggs? Or were there more? There probably were on the second night, when we found the balcony door open in the morning.

It could also be dani, bedbugs, but I don't think so. They leave a particular kind of small red bite, and don't attack for only two nights. Nevertheless, the mattress and bedding has all been changed and 'aired' (if you can call it that on a rainy damp day, and inside!). I will have to vacuum them too, I suppose.

Kanji's theory was that it was a flea. Apparently he caught a flea on himself. Instantly rang me to report it, and I supposed I was supposed to react with great interest and panic and DO something... all I did was sigh, swear under my breath at why I always have to 'do something' and vaguely tell him I didn't think animal fleas bit humans. He calls me later to tell me some site on the internet says they do. He also found out that if you place a basin of water with a splash of sake in it in the room, it'll attract the fleas. So he rushes home to put the plan into action. I must say I was VERY relieved when the plan turned up no fleas after an hour (and did not DARE suggest that you probably have to leave it a bit longer).

And then there's lice... are head lice really more prevalent in summer, or do I just think about them more, because of all the bugs and itchiness around anyway? My head just seems to be itchy, so I checked Amy's head - nothing. Maybe it's just sweat rash, or prickly heat. Prickly heat is a better term as it sums up perfectly the feeling you get of your skin just prickling all over, usually around the face, neck and arms. 

At least it's not a mukade. That's a centipede, but that word in English is almost cute, I much prefer the Japanese word, it seems to sum up the true evil of the creature better with those hard consonants. Lena had the bad luck to the be the first to sight one this year, behind the cabinet in the kitchen, near the laundry pile in the corner there that is supposed to be in a basket only I can't find it. I was in the shower at the time, and when I got out, I found all the laundry piled in the hall, and Amy telling me that the mukade definitely isn't in the laundry. She had gone through it to check! I can only imagine how you would do that, picking up each bit in one finger and one thumb, shaking it out a bit while taking a big step backwards and shuddering... what a sweetie, to do that for poor Lena, who was freaking out so much that I had to actually tell her off for being such a wet blanket. We are ALL horrified by mukade, Lena, not just you, and you know what? That mukade is terrified of us and hiding right now, so we are NOT going to be able to find it!

Usually I blame my old house, but this week I heard the mukade horror story from hell from a woman whose house is only 5 or 10 years old - one bit her on her face in bed!  I've only seen one upstairs - crawling across Erica's bed when she was three months old. I had her in my arms, feeding her at the time when I saw it, which was better of course than seeing it crawl ON her, but I still set off the Daddy alarm, and escaped downstairs while he hunted and murdered it.

ugh enough about bugs

Thursday, July 12, 2012


and every intention to get off to bed, NOW, after a sleepless night last night thanks to one stupid annoying mozzie.

Weird things happening last night, like Lena getting up to check the balcony door, and saying it was open, and me thinking she was just sleepwalking, or it was shut but not latched, and going back to sleep, only to find the balcony door open in the morning. So that's where all those bloody mozzies came from.

And speaking of blood, Erica had a nosebleed - she did this last summer too, every day. And yes, I put towels down, but she's in a rolling stage, so she managed to get her undersheet and blanket too! So all of that was washed today, but not until the other catch-up loads went through, so only hung right now on those double-wide hangers inside because it's apparently going to rain again tonight!

I sometimes wonder what on earth I would do without that strip of wood around the walls in a Japanese style room, just above head height. If I was rich, in a big old house, and it was the 'zashiki' I guess I'd hang pictures off it of calligraphy scrolls and ancient buddhist priests. But this is a small house full of people, so it gets used as a convenient rainy-day "just until I get around to putting them outside" laundry hanger.

Once when my sister-in-law came over to clean up a bit before I got back from the hospital or NZ or something, she made sure to quite specifically tell Kanji that this shelf thingy needed to be dusted inside. Dear thing, she thought it being completely full of dust meant that I didn't know. Do you think Japanese people will ever get used the idea that sometimes we know fully darn well something needs to be done, but just don't want to do it anyway?

Amy just handed me some grapes. I love summer fruit! Waffling on here, waiting to sleep, just waiting now for the girls to get their pyjamas on.

To add to the weird things last night, Erica woke up with a BOING, which she never does, exclaiming at about 6am that it was SUN. I kind of sleepily told her to get some clothes on then... then drifted off to sleep again. Only to wake myself with a BOING half an hour later when the plastic set of drawers crashed over. Amy told me what had happened, and I quickly checked Lena and Erica - sound asleep of course, couple of sloths those two. Wonder where they get it?

This is Erica's drawers, she must have unbalanced them rifling through them. They are set in a place where they can't fall on anyone sleeping (I'm a bit earthquake paranoid in that way) but still would have hurt a bit if she had been standing in front of them. Their backs are to the end of the bunk, so I'm musing ways to tie them on. The first thing I thought of was kimono ties - another sign of summer is that the yukata box has been dragged out, the girls excitedly trying them on to see which ones fit them this year.

iphone sync finished, grapes finished (the girls are still working on theirs). I'm going to take out the chicken for dinner tomorrow and chill a bottle of wine. I'm going to be SUCH a good girl tomorrow, and do all the laundry and cooking in the morning, then go for a SWIM before work, just so I can come home, and sit straight down and have that glass of wine. Already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


From me, that is. June started all gung-ho, but well, what can you say, LIFE intervenes, doesn't it. And facebook. Twice I've sat down now with a nice glass of wine on a Friday night, intending to use that sweet spot in between glasses 2 and 3 to write and gotten totally distracted by such fundamentally important things as someone's new hammock, or a recipe for pie.

We spent the weekend in Munakata with Kristin and family, and Christine and Nao. We had a 4th July barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers. We went to see a lit candle rainbow at a Tanabata festival, with some dancing. Then came home and drank wine while trying not to be driven mad by the sound of seven kids thumping and squealing and the dog joining in. We stayed the night, which was a 'trial run' of this summer's intended road trip - to see if we could actually fit our stuff, mattresses, tent, ground sheet, food bag, toys, beach bags, blankets and pillows, plus us, in the car and not forget anything.

Sunday on the way home, we went for our first beach visit this year, yay!!!! It was just one of those lovely afternoons with the kids - chatting away in the car, going on an adventure down strange streets that look like they go somewhere on the map, finally finding a beach, the swimming of course, being given watermelon by complete strangers, AmePote chips in the car, a lovely refreshing onsen, arriving home while it's still light, for a quick dinner of frozen pizza, fried eggs and chips then flopping onto the sofa to watch a movie.

Today I went swimming for the second time since signing up for the pool in April, 800m today. Amy and Lena have an open school this afternoon, Baachan is going to pick up Erica from kindy, and it's ham steaks and pineapple for tea fitted around juku and piano lessons.

 I've designated Tuesday "blog day" (as opposed to AFWJ Day on Wednesday, and "work" day on Monday, job hunting and getting things ready to sell at auction), so I have to fit that in sometime (oh, how about now? good idea) PLUS find those damn health check coupons I got a few weeks ago, so I can go get strangers to poke and prod me in all my naughty bits, which is, of course, preferable to dying of cancer of those naughty bits.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Flood, pumpkin and an award-winning portrait

Nakatsu flooded. Finally. Only been waiting for that, since, well, since I moved to this house with the stream out the back, sea to the north and rivers on both sides. Every rainy season, and every typhoon season, one town or another somewhere in Japan gets it. The news is so sensational you get the feeling that entire areas of the country are underwater, but when you look more closely, it's just a few houses along the river bank in one isolated obscure town. So I figured our time would come, we have a nice big healthy river running through town, looking for all the world like it would be quite happy to jump the banks and come visit us all.

And today was the day. Actually, there was no water at all in town, and the stream behind my house wasn't even high. But 'Nakatsu, Nakatsu' was all over the news, because a few years ago the city incorporated a bunch of mountain villages inland up the river, and THEY flooded, along with a bigger town 'next to' our town (actually an hour's drive away), Hita.

I've only been as far as the river in town to look, and then only to reassure myself it wasn't ready to overflow any time soon. There are locks on the river to help regulate the flow past the main parts of town to the coast. I heard our beautiful local landmark Aonodomon was flooded, and part of the cycling road (the former railway) was washed away. I hope to get a look sometime! Maybe Saturday if we go visit someone...

In other news, we got a pumpkin. In Japan, people often give you random vegetables, especially in season. Quite a big one, so I decided today would be pumpkin day! Lena swanned into the kitchen this morning, and said, "pumpkin soup!". I thought she has read by mind, but she was just reading the school meal menu. Yep, I picked pumpkin soup day to have pumpkin day. Never mind, I was not to be thwarted! As an extra challenge, I decided to not BUY anything. I ended up with just under a quarter of a pumpkin boiled up Japanese style, just under a quarter cooked with a cream sauce and topped with cheese, a quarter put aside for pumpkin tempura on Friday night to pop on top of our Takamatsu udon (another random food gift) and somewhat over a quarter went into a pumpkin risotto. Which the kids hated, so now there's a little on the stove for Kanji, and FIVE bowls of it in the freezer for my lunches for the next week!

I can't write pumpkin without thinking of Erica, whom I have always nicknamed Pumpkin. At one point I thought up some suitable vegetable nicknames for the other two, but forgot them! So we tried again today, starting with Tomato for Lena, cos she likes them, and Carrot for Amy, because it was the first thing she saw when she opened the fridge. Actually, it was the second thing, the first thing she saw was Ginger Flower, so she decided she liked that better, and I decided Ma Petit Chou suited Lena far better than Tomato. Little cabbage.

Half way through my immensely unpopular dinner, which also featured soggy frozen chicken, Baachan called, or rather she called Kanji and he called me, to tell us about some prize Amy and I had won in a photo contest. Which made no sense at all to me, until I remembered our little modeling gig last year!

The photographer did submit a very caravaggist/18thc-romantic-painting-like portrait of me and Amy to the photography contest, and WON! How bizarre to think we were on wall somewhere with people saying "Oh, such lovely lighting" (and thinking "god she could have at least brushed her hair"). And upon winning, he presented us with a poster-size print. Baachan is sweetly proud, and will photocopy a copy for us - while she gets the real thing framed and sticks it on the wall in the Stand so she can tell everyone how like the Mona Lisa I look.

Meanwhile, Lena burst into tears. She's the one who wants to become a model, after all. But, as I reminded her, she was in the shop window for 3-4 months!! Then Amy got upset that Lena was upset, and Lena got over being upset about the picture only to be upset that she had made Amy upset by being upset, and then Erica packed a paddy because she didn't want to leave, because she loves Baachan.... sigh!

Nothing else for it but to buy everyone ice cream on the way home. It worked.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mud, lawns, and being RIGHT, dammit!

I heard a wonderful sound floating through the windows on a drowsy hot June morning the other day while I was work - that of a lawnmower.

At first it was just background noise, then after a while I recognized it, and realized that it had also made me feel kind of relaxed and content.

It's a sound I associate with lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons in summer in New Zealand, hanging out at home, sunbathing on the patio, or reading a book on the sofa; or (later on in life) cracking open the wine for a gentle afternoon slipping into evening.

The scent also reached me, a scent that still transports me instantly back to school days, and grass fights. Whenever the grassy fields that surround NZ schools are mowed, out come the students to throw handfuls of grass at each other (or stuff it down their shirts, when they're a bit older and searching for any excuse to 'accidentally' touch another body).

It's a sound of perfect suburban contentment - and one entirely unfamiliar in Japan.

Apart from small patches in the middle of a Japanese garden, no-one has lawns here, except committed hobbyists and frantic foreigners. And no institutions have them. Schools here are surrounded by dirt, with a huge sandy field for sports.

When it rains, this sand turns quickly to mud. The worst is Erica's daycare. The sand there is thick, like a sandpit, all the way up to the entry way - there's no path, you have to walk through the sand. I've learned now to store my work shoes in my car and wear sneakers or sandals to drop her off, but at first, I made the mistake more than once of dropping her off in my work shoes, and getting coated with sand and mud.

But the small university where I teach is different, more progressive.They teach architecture and technology and computing and engineering and tick the right boxes in many ways, including having actual LAWNS all over the place - in the quadrangle where students hang out at lunch, in the more decorative areas surrounding the main lecture building, and EVEN ON THE SPORTS FIELD. This last example is simply amazing in Japan. Actually having actual lawn to play sports on is almost unheard of.

This is why I heard a lawnmower that day, working there. And it sounded just so right to me!

I've heard all the reasons - the excuses - as to why dirt, and not grass, is necessary at Japanese schools. And I've heard the other side - that grass is actually much easier to maintain that most Japanese think. My friend's husband studied about it. And I think my college's example is a case in point - this is a school that prides itself on modern, environmentally friendly solutions. We only use air conditioning for two months a year. Most of the interiors are lit naturally, and artificial light is kept to a minimum. They even switch off the office lights during the lunch hour! I'm pretty certain that if grass was really so horrifically expensive, environmentally destructive and impossible to maintain, they wouldn't do it.

I think what's really going on is institutional inertia. Generation after generation of people who accept the 'wisdom' of those who have gone before, without ever questioning it. My husband is now the President of the PTA, but even so, we have no power to change anything. He just wants to go on doing what was done before.

The most frustrating thing is KNOWING I am right, and 'they' are wrong. To be sure, many of 'them' also know I am right, but feel more comfortable going along with the status quo, but still!

When you live your life in a foreign country, all of your assumptions are called into question. There is no such thing as 'common sense'. There is no consensus about what is right. Part of learning how to live in a foreign country is accepting that fact. Along the way, your views and opinions change. Sometimes you simply accept that there are two (or more) ways of doing something, and no-one is right. Sometimes you reach the conclusion that 'they' are right, and your own culturally accepted way of doing things was not the best choice after all.

But then there those other times.... the times where no matter how long you've been here, or how many times people have tried to explain something to you, you just know, that you are RIGHT!

And this is one of them.

Come on Japan, you NEED lawns!!!!