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"Letter-Letter 317"
March 21st, 2003
"Many Sides - One & All"
"1st Day of School"  by KCM & LHS
"Hey You! - Look at the WHOLE Picture!"
"Walking"  by SZS
"Visit to Queensland"  by APP
"In the Living Room"
"Downside to the Countryside"  by Yo/Gr & LHS
"Back in Hyderabad"  by EssKay
"Interracial Relationships..."  by KCM & LHS +KCM
"The Real World"  by KCM
"Broadcasts & Receptivity"  by CPK
"Irasshaimase! - Joking... Hello?"
"The Jack of Queens"  by CPK
"Fun with Voice-Entry Software"
"From Trucks to Computers" by LNX
"Waiting for a Friend"
"Transatlantic Trips & Garden Houses"  by SAJ
"What's For Dinner?"  by GTK
"Where to Live - That is the Question" by NBN

"Many Sides - One & All"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/27)  In a letter I received yesterday, this comment was made:  "....... I do not know which side you and your readers are on over the war in Iraq", followed by a discussion of it, and ending with "I am neutral and perhaps a coward - I do not want to be dragged into an argument where I know I cannot influence anything, but I hope the war will end soon and we can all live in peace."

Yes - we've got to learn to live together somehow....  The "which side" aspect of things since the 767's were flown into the towers is particularly worrisome to me.  Absolutism is a grand castle of sand built at low tide - it cannot by its very nature survive.  Maybe this abhorrence of simplistically categorizing things as Black&White, Right&Wrong, WithUs&AgainstUs, etc. comes from living in Japan, where much is ambiguous and the language was designed to accommodate the space between the lines.  Often the lack of clarity irritates me, the truth be known, but when the issues being discussed are complex and not in and of themselves resolvable, then it works quite well.

Is it Black, or White? - Neither! - And both!

Is it Right, or Wrong? - Both! - And neither!

Are you WithUs, or AgainstUs? - I'm with you on some issues and against you on others!  Must I agree with all of your opinions?  No!!  Must I disagree with all of your opinions?  No!!  I Claim The Right to Think!!!

As I've stated in an LL-Letter before, the whole purpose of this letter is to find the common ground and to learn about lifestyles in other lands.  Not in order to decide which is right - but to better understand the world and to discover the truth that there is more that binds us than separates us - in spite of the way things may seem at times.

"1st Day of School"     [Top of page]

First day of school... back in September of 2002!  Yikes!  If I don't hurry up and get this sent out, the year will lap and old stuff will fall back into season - a year behind!  (Like being lapped on a racetrack or something.)

First day of school - first day of a new job... now that I'm nearly out the door of the company I've been working at for the past year, I find myself thinking back to the first month - a time of hope and positive expectations.  There are some good aspects to the job to look back on now, but I can't shake a powerful feeling of wasted time and destroyed opportunities.  It should have been a good job, but bloody office politics got in the way - as it generally does it would seem....

The thing is - it's a printing company!  And here I am with books I want printed/published!

Date: Fri, 27 Sep 2002 +0100
From: KCM  [US]

Today was the first day of school - everything went well, although my poetry teacher scared me a little with all the technical stuff.  Part of my problem is that English is not my first language, and although I'm fluent in it, my ears can't distinguish the different stresses in a poem as well.  So this worries me a little.

I just came off a nearly week-long visit to Aabbb (which my family did not know about, because my parents would throw a hissy fit).  It was a lot of fun and I met a bunch of Aabbb's friends.  They're all really nice and laid-back and they all have Asian girlfriends who are either applying to law school or are already in law school.  I just noticed that pattern a few days ago.  It's just really funny to me.

We ate sushi a lot and we also explored the City a bit.  During the days that Aabbb worked, I stayed in and read and read.  It was actually quite relaxing after the stress of summer.


"Hey You! - Look at the WHOLE Picture!"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/25)  It's very important that I keep politics out of here, but there is one thing I would really like to comment on regarding a certain talking head on TV saying "the Ccddd people..." something, and "the Ccddd people..." whatever.  From comments about the victims of 911 "the Ccddd people..." to the current war in Iraq "the Ccddd people...".  I've been hearing people here in Tokyo (from both this country and others) complain - justifiably I feel - that it bothers them to constantly see international events spoken of with that PR slogan "the Ccddd people..." constantly coming from that talking head - as though he were only concerned about one country.  And so they say to me: "Doesn't he realize that there were people from all over the world who died in the towers?!?" & "Doesn't he realize that decisions taken in Ccddd affect not only Ccddd, but all of the rest of us too!?!", etc.  And so, I want to say:

"Hey you!  Have a good look at the WHOLE picture!  Understand that we're all breathing the same air on the same planet.  Please cut out the incessant drumbeat of only one people's point of view!  Let's do things together, and let's understand that speeches broadcast worldwide should be spoken with that fact in mind."

Now - should I leave that in or take it out....  Strictly speaking, I probably ought to take it out, as it touches on politics, but it seems like such a glaring thing from my vantage point in Tokyo, that I thought I'd at least pass it on in the spirit of a news report.  "What are people thinking overseas?"  Well - in Tokyo, that's one thing they're thinking.

This is what I most dislike about the world since the towers came down - this polarization and general atmosphere of eternal strife.  The difficulty of maintaining a neutral position.  May we all - somehow - achieve a more authentic and durable peace.  The horrible thing about extremes is that one leads to another - so with people increasingly speaking in extremes, the possibility of seeing the entire picture in a balanced way is more difficult than it should be.

"Walking"     [Top of page]

Subject: The Latest
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 2002  +0000
From: SZS  [UK]

The fifteen-mile walk yesterday was fun.  I climbed on board the bus after telling Aabbb about the walk the day before.  Aabbb was on the bus and also Bbccc and Ccddd - the ex-USMC veteran.  When I asked Bbccc how long he had known about the walk "Months" he said, "If I had told you, you would have come along, and then I wouldn't have" was the reply.  Hard to know when this guy is on a wind up?  I asked the Ranger if it was a guided walk, and he told me it was, but if I knew the way back I could go on ahead.  Learned my lesson long ago that if I walk too slow, I end up with a foot injury.  The walk was nice and pleasant with people of all shapes and sizes - one guy stood out like a sore thumb, he was really obese, looking a bit like an egg on legs....  Yes folks, the diet starts tomorrow.  Have to buy a set of scales.  Wonder if they have a second hand pair of elephant scales I can borrow from the local zoo.  Say, this is serious stuff here.

We passed the disused locks - soon to be working again in, say, about 2030 by the look of things.  So pathetic to let the canals go the way they have.  The idea is to return the canals to their former glory and allow pleasure craft to return once again.  I do remember canal barges being towed by horses long ago.  Doesn't it make you feel old?  Do you still call a radio a wireless?

Then we heard a sound.  Was it the reed warbler?  No it was a bike hurtling across the fields onto the canal towpath having first hurtled around the bend which was a blind corner, but do we care if we knock anybody down while having fun?  Not really.

The two rangers ran in front to stop the vehicle.  Around the corner came a small quad bike driven by a seven-year-old.  The Ranger stopped the toddler and asked if he was on his own - he replied he was with his dad.  He was told to go back to his dad, and he drove off.  The quad could be heard in the distance... we all agreed 'what a stupid father' to let his small son go off on a machine like that.  He could have run into the canal or a ditch or a tree... or who knows what else.  We have just witnessed the murder of two young girls here in the UK... do we ever learn?

Arriving at the old hall, the Ranger told us we would stop for dinner, which would last for three quarters of an hour.  I told Aabbb no way was I stopping for that long - I would be gone in twenty minutes.  The method in the madness was we would soon be in drinking distance of the Ferry Tavern - may you be stuck by lightning if you pass without having a pint.  Aabbb said "I will join you", so off we trotted along the canal once again.  Soon we reached the Tavern, which has Old Speckled Hen on tap.  Aabbb had a Bacardi Breezer, which she bought with her own money - far too expensive for my funding.

That first pint after walking doesn't touch the roof of the mouth.  It was the only pint as we still had a few more miles to go.  Down a couple of OSHs and you would be swimming back no problem.  The group we left for dinner had now caught us up, and it was now two and a half miles back to home.  We opened up and it was good to do a bit of speed walking with the route being flat.  Then it was home.  We covered the fifteen miles in about five hours - which includes the Ranger telling us to slow down a few times and also stopping for dinner and a pint.

I could see the Rangers point of view if we forced the pace of others not used to walking - who would try to keep up and fade and burn.  (I knew this from being a walks leader myself.)  I pointed out we had been given permission to go on ahead by the other Ranger, but "with crossing three boroughs and meeting other Ranger groups, there could be a breakdown in communications" was the answer.

Aabbb departed until the next walk.  She is all geared up for the next Sandstone Challenge next year - with a bit of training, she should cover the trail in ten and a half hours.  If she had walked the trail the way she walked on the canal walk we would have finished the 34 miles in a great time.  'Don't train - get lots of pain' they say.  We finished the Sandstone Trail this year in twelve hours, and if Aabbb had put a bit of training in, we could have walked it faster.  She did say we would go for ten hours next year.  Time will tell?


I do a fair bit of walking within Tokyo, but I've never sat down with a map and tried to figure out just how long my walks have been.  The thing about walking about within a city, is that you spend a lot of time going to and fro and it's generally not a matter of just moving straight ahead.  Since first reading SZS's account of the long walks he partakes of in the UK, I sometimes think of going there and trying it myself sometime.  I could probably do some photography along the way.     [Top of page]

"Visit to Queensland"     [Top of page]

Date: Sun, 03 Nov 2002  +0000
From: APP  [Australia]

So much has happened - but who wants to hear the down side of my life.  There was a fantastic experience I had a couple of months ago, however.  I was visiting my daughter and grandchildren in sunny Queensland on the Gold Coast (tourist area) and went to SeaWorld with my grandchildren and I finally got to swim with a dolphin.  Something I have wanted to do for such a long time.  It was great.  I loved every minute of it.  We donned life jackets and swam to the deep part of the lagoon.  We also had goggles to view the dolphin under water as he prepared for his jump.  He swam by me, under me and let me pat him.  I even got a photo giving him a cuddle.

I have another granddaughter - born in June.  Six grandchildren now, but they will all be living in Queensland soon so now I am facing a big decision in life.  Do I move to be closer to my family or stay put with a partner who doesn't want to move.


"In the Living Room"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/25 - Ochanomizu)  A moment of peace in the special room set aside for meetings with guests under the most formal circumstances.  Not that I'm any VIP in the company - they fired me after all, but in my last week here, I don't have a desk or any set place to sit, so with my old nemesis Mr. Aisatsu having almost daily meetings in the 7th floor conference room (purely coincidental?), the only space left is this room.  So, I have found myself in a perfect setting for contemplation - sitting in an expensive leather chair, with the monitor sitting on a nice coffee table, and natural light coming through real wood Venetian blinds.  Over on another expensive piece of wood furniture, sits a clock embedded in stone, and there are a couple of paintings on the walls as well.  The room is topped and bottomed off with an unusual ceiling and floor covering.  In short, it's like what a living room used to be, although I've read that most people have given up on having a living room in their homes in favor of a home office or home theater room?

All these years in Japan... I've never had anything like a living room (living in cramped apartments, that isn't an option), so it feels rather nice to sit in this room and listen to the semi-silence... muffled voices from the office next door, the hum of the air cooling/heating system, and the mellow chimes of the clock.  Yesterday evening, it was so quiet and the room so relaxing, that I ended up falling asleep for about 20 minutes in this same chair while contemplating my overall situation and perceiving the luminous color characters on a black background on the flat screen LCD monitor in the old style and darkened room as high-tech.  I'm not too sure of what lies ahead, but this moment, at least, is a nice one.

There being no moment of grand arrival, you have to enjoy the good moments where and when you can find them.  Sitting up here like this, I realize what an extremely stressful environment the 2nd floor is.  I'd be trying to write something down there, and people would be yelling into the telephone and others physically bumping into my chair as they walked by.... topped off with carbon monoxide from the stairwell leading down the garage, and periodic blasts of freezing air as people walked to and from the next semi-connected building - not to mention the Venetian blinds being shut by paranoid idiots who were afraid that someone might be looking through the mirrored windows from outside with binoculars - reading the computer screens.  About as bad of an environment for writing as there is I think.

Well - I have an interview in Akihabara in 40 minutes, so I better shut down the computer and get over there.

"Downside to the Countryside"     [Top of page]

Date: Sun, 3 Nov 2002
From: Yo/Gr  [US / Japan]

.........  It's cold here now - it's not normally this cold yet, maybe it's the rain?  The leaves are changing now, so I drove into the mountains and went to a spot famous for its colors - can't remember the name, but it's basically on the border of Tokushima and Kouchi prefectures.  It was great (except for the weather), it was beautiful!  I have seen many a picture of this place, but seeing it in person was great.  I went last year, but I missed the season by a few days, so I was happy this time even with a light rain and an excess of people (well, nothing like in Tokyo, but this is still Japan!).

The road there is not too bad, it gets small, but nothing like the trip it took last week to Mt. Tsurugi,  I'm talking about a road that changes from three car widths to the width of a compact car - one lane, lots of curves and rocks, but very nice views!  (There were signs saying "ka-bu" in katakana that I thought meant "curb", so I was looking around for nonexistent curbs... I laughed at myself when I finally figured out that "ka-bu" means "curve", as in "Beware of Curves Ahead".)  After four hours out on the bike, I passed out at home - it's not really that far, but with people who insist on following the %$#&ing 40km speed limit, I was going crazy.  Luckily, in the sticks the police don't usually bother coming out, so I get away with passing on a yellow line, and when possible try to keep up closer to 100km.  I have tomorrow off, and am feeling the need to see a real city, the brain is slowing down....

There it is, the downside to the countryside!  No stress, but sometimes a bit of stress is good stimulation!  Well... I'm feeling brain dead now!


I wish I could work out some kind of exchange thing with Yo/Gr - where I go to the countryside to relax for a month or two, and he could stay up here in Tokyo and enjoy the city life.  Swapping jobs could also be fun!

It seems to be a common dream, and certainly one of mine, to desire a life in Tokyo from Monday through Friday, and a life far away from Tokyo on Saturday and Sunday.  While not impossible, the vast size of Tokyo and the incredible number of people here (30,000,000) make the logistics of getting out on the weekend such that only wealthy people are able to actually live that way.  And so I wish I were filthy stinking rich, so I could actually do that sort of thing and not just talk about it....

"Back in Hyderabad"     [Top of page]

Date: Sun, 03 Nov 2002  +0400
From: EssKay  [India]

I don't  suppose you remember much of me, as I have not responded in ages!  I used to live in Dubai in the UAE but moved to Hyderabad in India in March of last year.  I've been getting readjusted to living in India again... and in the meantime have taken up fitness training seriously.  Am now a personal trainer - teaching aerobics, weight training and kick boxing.  It is wonderful and I enjoy it thoroughly.  I meet all sorts of interesting people, albeit overweight ones!!



"Interracial Relationships..."     [Top of page]

Date: Wed, 06 Nov 2002 +0000
From: KCM  [US]


In your next LL, can you ask this question?:  What do you think of interracial relationships?  In my Interracial Relationships in African American and Asian American Literature, there is obviously a lot of discussion about this and I thought it might be interesting to hear from other people what they think.

I'm going to Vegas this weekend!  :)  My supervisor is going, too, although she isn't staying at the same place we are.  We're going to meet some friends and Aabbb there and it will be so much fun.


Now here's a topic that I've done a lot of thinking about, but haven't really ever discussed.  The main problem with being in an interracial relationship is how other people deal with it.  Any two individuals will have issues to work through no matter what race they are, but what makes interracial relationships being together an issue at all really, is when other people get bent out of shape when seeing Sneeches with stars and Sneeches without stars actually together, which makes racists' defective brains smoke and short circuit, so they get weird.  Some experiences I've had:

While living in San Francisco before moving to Tokyo, for the most part, I was married to my camera, but being in fact single, I dated a little (very little actually), and I noticed a remarkable difference in how people acted when I started dating a Japanese-American woman (who I'll call Ccddd here).  Some Chinese-American guys we encountered were openly surly about it - they obviously didn't like the situation at all (presumably they assumed she was Chinese).  White people usually tried to pretend that they were open minded about it, but you could sometimes feel what looked like a struggle within them... with their subconscious reaction being negative and their conscious minds having an argument about it "Well, what's wrong with that?  Nothing, right?  So stop thinking about it!"... or some such feeling.

The biggest eye-opener for me though, was how many of the African Americans I met were suddenly very friendly when I met them while with Ccddd.  Before that, I'd never had any problems or anything, but the African American people I'd worked with and gone to school with - while in the same space, we seemed to be on either side of an invisible boundary.  I suppose for them, seeing Ccddd and I together was visual proof that we weren't racists ourselves, and so they were friendlier?  I noticed that same theme in other places.  In a small town in northern California, where the white people we met seemed to stiffen up at the sight of us, but maintained civilized behavior all the same.  And then in Louisiana where many of the white people we met were rude to us, and at least as many of the African Americans we met were friendly.  One of the white taxi drivers was downright scary - but after driving us to the airport in stony silence, he took his tip with a smile.  Maybe I shouldn't have given him a tip, but what can you say?  "No tip for you - you bad vibe emitting person, you!"

While riding in a taxi in Australia with my parents, the four people in the car were all white, and the driver started talking about all the Asian people in Australia - saying "It's fine to be on good terms with them, but you don't have to get in bed with them".  My father cast a worried look in my direction, no doubt expecting me to blow up at a figurative sentence that in fact applied to me in the full literal sense, but I just let it go.  I was a visitor to Australia and not in the mood to be doing battle anyway, and... I suppose if I dare myself to really look hard into the mirror, I might have to admit that since I'm white, and the driver was complaining about another category, it didn't bother me?  That's depressing... but I can't ignore that possibility.  When I think back on that incident, a question hangs in the air - should I have undertaken a debate with that guy... telling him that he was being a racist and that I didn't appreciate his remarks?

While in Italy somewhere, my Japanese partner walked on ahead of me and I called out something to her in Japanese and then noticed this Italian woman staring at me in horror - as though I had just stepped off on a space craft in front of her or something.  You no doubt think I'm overstating this as a writing style to make it more interesting... but that woman really did have a horrified expression on her face - her mouth was hanging open and her expression very clearly stated "WhatWhatWhat??!!! - Weird Asian noises... from that face??!!??  HowHowHow??  Noooo...... That can't be!!!"  It was amusing, but also embarrassing, as though I'd done something wrong, and so there's another memory to bug me... what language I choose to speak is my business and not some strangers'!  Um... wait a second.  That's not entirely true is it?  Language being a communal thing, and that community not being one to use Japanese, I suppose someone might as well be surprised to hear a completely foreign sounding language.  Nevertheless, the look of horror on her face... I wish I had a video of that moment....

And then there are the things I've experienced here in Japan as an outsider, but I fully expected that I would run into a number of difficult situations in coming here as an extreme minority.  I will say this - especially in light of my own silence when I have been a member of a majority, I deeply appreciate the local people who have come to my defense, for they are special and bold people, who selflessly speak up on behalf of people being victimized, and often end up being targets themselves in the process.  You should never take that kind of bravery for granted, and by extension, you need to think of your own role and what you should be doing.  What each of us does is what this world becomes after all.

I thought I'd only write a few words - but it's a complicated topic.  If you want to fully understand exactly what racism is, getting into an interracial marriage is one sure way of finding out.

[In editing this, I sent the above part to KCM to see what she thought of it, and got this response back this morning]:

Subject: Re: PreviousQuestion...
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003  -0800 (PST)
From: KCM  [US]

Hi!  Thanks for answering my question.  It's pretty interesting how "The more things change, the more they remain the same."  (I think that's how the saying goes.)  A few things - you talk about Chinese American men resenting your Japanese girlfriend.  I don't know about your situation, but maybe they thought she was Chinese?  That would make more sense - not that it makes it any more right.  But there's a lot of resentment among Asian American men and black women as the "unwanted sexes" - a number of my Asian female friends will cop to "white fetishes" and there's a disproportionate number of Asian female/white male relationships.  Such relationships are not wrong in and of themselves, but when there's such a huge trend, the Asian males get a lot more sensitized to what they see as a betrayal and rejection of their own culture.   Many Asian females are looking to escape the restrictive aspects of their culture and may feel that they'd want a more free-thinking white male, who would have looks, power, and the progressive thinking that some Asian males lack.  I can't really comment about the black females' resentments, although I suspect that for some black men, marrying white would be like "marrying up" or something.

When I told a Chinese friend that Aabbb was Arab, he jokingly called me a traitor to my race.  It's gotten so that we can mock those kinds of attitudes now.

I'm being all analytical and stuff.  Don't mind me.  I think ultimately, that no one besides the ones involved can judge the reasons why people fall for each other.  We can always speculate, but it's not really our business.  On the other hand, it's human nature to be nosy.

It's also been a while since you were last in the US, and I suspect that in California, at least, you wouldn't have as many of those experiences as you did then.  I have yet to experience anyone being openly rude to me and Mark, other than some staring, but then I sometimes act strangely in public.


Change over time - this is something that is on my mind a lot these days.  I think back to 1984 in Tokyo and how much things have changed here since then - without continuing the same line of thinking to include the obvious fact that things change just about everywhere at the same time (same planet - same flow of time after all!).  When I visited San Francisco in 1996, it seemed the same, but when I got broadband access here and started watching US TV video clips on my computer, I was immediately struck with the way the younger people were talking, which seemed odd to me.  "Uh-oh... they sound odd?  Then how do I sound now, and how much have things changed that I have no idea of?"  Scary thoughts those!  Maybe I should go back for a visit and spend some time getting to know 21st century NA....     [Top of page]

"The Real World"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 17 Dec 2002  -0800 (PST)
From: KCM  [US]

..............  I'm really nervous about next year, when I graduate and enter the "real world."  It's been weird; the quarter seems to have just come and gone.  I wait anxiously for weekends and at the same time I dread the upcoming job hunt.  And what to do about my relationship if I somehow miraculously get offered a really nice job somewhere far away?  .........  Oh well.  What if I move in with him and then my parents disown me?  I'm nervous because I have no idea what I should be doing or what to expect.  I just retouched my resume and now it is one and a half pages long.  Other than the nervousness, everything else is good.  I think I got good grades this quarter but I haven't checked yet.  And then I am graduating and finally my work will just be work, not schoolwork, work, and paying to get educated.


"Broadcasts & Receptivity"     [Top of page]

Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002  -0600
From: CPK  [US]

.........  I have been enjoying the company of a particular coworker who came over so I could teach him how to play chess.  After a couple of games, we watched some movies.  I just happened to be seated next to him and found his close presence distracting.  I'm very familiar with this feeling, as I had a terribly romantic past and didn't marry until the age of 29 after many different relationships.  I'm old and wise enough now not to get caught up in those electric feelings I sometimes experience - brought on by the intrigue of someone new.  I have learned  that even though love and passion for someone may live indefinitely, like the love I have for my husband, that initial exciting exhilaration is only temporal and is neither of value nor indicative of a possible good relationship.  So, I have learned to avoid giving it any attention when it happens, and I certainly don't allow myself to be in a position for that possible "innocent first kiss".  What I find fascinating about this phenomena, is it's tendency to bring about almost telepathic experiences.  During conversation with this friend, I had many uncanny moments of thinking something only to have him say the very thing I was thinking, - often regarding obscure subjects.  Kind of like reading each other?fs minds.  I remembered back when I was first dating my husband.  We experienced this a great deal and had misinterpreted it at the time as being "soul mates".  Well, no doubt by the wonderful depth of our relationship, we are in fact "soul mates" but we no longer read each others minds in that same manner.  There must be something to that initial early spark that causes peoples minds to draw information, waves, or something seemingly almost telepathic.  I'm glad I can still enjoy this thrill from time to time, from a distance, without getting into trouble.

My friend, by the way, is extremely intelligent, and fiercely competitive.  It was fun playing chess with him because, while I'm not of necessarily high IQ, I do have a kind of  flair for chess.  I'd say my husband is much smarter than I, but he cannot beat me in chess either.  I think it's my tendency to be balanced between offensive and defensive tactics, and my ability to think ahead of many possible outcomes.  That's probably why I'm a suitable home-manager and handle all of our finances, but, I couldn't fix the car if I had to, and I don't know much about computers.


"Irasshaimase! - Joking... Hello?"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/26 - Ochanomizu)  Humor is a difficult thing - not many people can effectively make others laugh on a consistent basis, and there are times when anyone's jokes just don't go over at all.  Considering how hard jokes are within the same culture, it's not surprising then that cross-culture jokes are that much more difficult to successfully convey.  As one example I offer up "Irasshaimase", which is the standard welcome used in retail shops in particular, but also used by restaurants, hotels, etc.  Running that through the translation software on my computer produces: "Hello. Can I help you?", and the electronic dictionary in my computer says: "Come in."  "Come on in."  "This way, please."  "Welcome."  "Can/May I help you, sir/madam?"  "What can I do for you, sir/madam?".

From all of that, maybe you can imagine how multipurpose some words in Japanese are.  A word constantly in (over)use within companies, is "Otsukaresama (desu)" which means, as a direct translation - "in tired condition", as in "You must be tired (after working so hard)".  It's a nifty phrase, but it gets tiresome when you hear it from everyone all the time as you're moving about within the company.  Go for a drink of water?  Half the people you pass on the way will say "Otsukaresama desu" as you pass (which you answer with the same phrase).  Need to make a copy on the next floor up?  On the way and coming back, more people who encounter you in motion will say "Otsukaresama-desu".  The thinking is something along the lines of "I can see you're working hard - thank you for the effort - let's keep working hard together!" or some such nice sentiment that I think is just fine.  What bothers me sometimes is the monotony of hearing that same phase over and over (seemingly) endlessly.  (The translation software, incidentally, comes up with: "tiredness externals".)

So now we come to my failed joke.  Several times I have found myself standing in an empty elevator when it stops and someone gets on.  I sometimes get a flashback to one of the 787,372 times I've entered a shop and they have automatically (sometimes its a recording) said "Irasshaimase".  Different situation and different vocabulary, but same automatic phrase that is relentlessly repeated.... so... I've tried switching phrases as a joke and said "Irasshaimase" when someone was getting on the elevator, which I meant as "Welcome to the elevator" - a concept that would only be perceived as funny if you think about the meaninglessness of over-repeating things.  What has happened every time I've tried that is - the other person keeps a perfectly expressionless face and answers my "Irasshaimase" with "Otsukaresama-desu".  So it's like the usual thing is A: "Thank you for working hard", B: "Thank you for working hard (too)", and then suddenly it's A: "Welcome!", B: "Thank you for working hard".

I don't particularly care if anyone finds that especially funny or not, but the fact that no one has even cracked a smile, or asked me what I mean, or indeed done so much as raise an eyebrow.  Jokes here are very heavy on the situational side.  If I did a stand-up comedy routine where I took the listeners through my perspective of hearing that same phrase everywhere over and over and over, and then explained the sensation of finding myself in a space - an elevator, but feeling like the inside of a store, and that I accidentally said "Irasshaimase" to the person entering, then people would probably laugh - but just tossing that one out there and seeing if anyone picks up the joke on UHF frequencies - combined with just puzzling it out?  It never seems to happen.  Also - again the situation-based thing, that being a slip up is considered funny - but deliberately said, is too ambiguous for people who want to know the "correct" response before they do anything.  And THAT may be the main issue here.  I'm creating a situation that people don't know how to deal with, and so they switch on autopilot with a face of stone and run the usual recording......

Jokes... sorry I even brought that one up!     [Top of page]

"The Jack of Queens"     [Top of page]

Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002  -0600
From: CPK  [US]

I thought I'd tell you about a funny thing that happened at a party at my husband's company last Friday.  It's probably as they say, "you had to be there" so you probably won't find it as amusing as it is in my head.  There was a rather poor magician/comedienne performer after dinner.  She asked for a volunteer and everyone chimed in the name of a young (22) guy named Aabbb.  He's kind of funny to begin with.  He might be smarter than he seems, but he has a hard time talking, and I would guess that he has a bit of a stuttering problem.  This was to be the typical card trick where the volunteer picks a card from the deck, looks at it, then puts it into his pocket.  Then the magician guesses what the card is and holds the same card (only much larger) to show the audience.  She asked him to announce what his card was (which was the jack of hearts) and he blurted out, "Jack of Queens".  Everyone immediately started howling with laughter while the magician looked at him like he was crazy and exclaimed, "WHAT?!?!?"  It kind of wrecked her trick, but we found it to be the most entertaining part of the whole show.


"Fun with Voice-Entry Software"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/21)  I'm writing this via my voice with ViaVoice software - thus the name "ViaVoice".  A friend of mine who has been having trouble with sore hands/fingers due to years of typing asked me about this software a couple of months ago. I haven't been experiencing repetitive motion problems myself (not much anyway), but the idea of inputting text with my voice was an intriguing one, and so I decided to try it out myself.  And - how is it?  Pretty good, except you have to keep a close watch on the text appearing on the screen in order to make corrections here and there - it doesn't work absolutely flawlessly after all!  That said, it works better than I had expected!  The setup time was a little bit tedious, as you have to read a lot of text into the software database before the system can easily recognize your speech in an accurate way.

Second paragraph.  I just noticed something interesting - not necessarily a problem, but something I'll have to be careful about.  When writing, there's the visual picture on the screen and so, as you write, you look at both the content and style of what you have just written and how it matches up with the new text as you write - the problem with speaking, is that it's much more present time focused, so you end up repeating things a lot more than you do when writing.

Third paragraph.  Another problem I've just noticed - if you start thinking about every word you speak, then you end up not saying anything!  The obvious answer is to just blast ahead, and then clean things up later on with the keyboard.  Well, not so obvious, because if you don't watch the screen, then you can end up with too many oddball words - making it impossible to remember what you actually said!

Fourth paragraph.  Okay here goes, let's see if I can make an intelligent paragraph without looking at the screen.  This is now being composed speaking into the mike and not looking at the screen.  I'll have a look in a while and see if I can make any sense of what's been input.  This software is amazingly accurate at times, but once you get used to the accuracy and stop speaking in a slow and deliberate way, then typical rapid speech with words mixed together produces some very strange sentences.

Fifth paragraph.  Sigh. I think this is only going to work if I constantly watch the screen, but that still might be OK if spoken text can be input faster than typewritten text.

Sixth paragraph.  Which word processing software to use?  The text is (not surprisingly) input into a word processor.  MS-Word tends to be heavy, and the word processing software that comes with the dictation software, while probably the best choice for dictation, still has aspects to it like MS-Word that I don't like.  So... I tried dictating into EditPad Pro, my favorite text editor, but then an error message comes up saying that the dictation software has shut down "... to prevent loss of data", whatever that means (beyond what it says I mean).  [In testing OpenOffice.org several days later, it seemed to have very good stability, but I only ran one two-page test.]

Stop-stop-stop!  That's it!  I've had enough!  It's far easier to just type in what I want to say than it is to struggle with the automation of the voice entry!  There's one more thing I want to try with it though - it has a feature that might dictate from sound files (I hope), which would be great as then I might be able to put stuff dictated into my IC recorder up on the screen that way!  If that doesn't work out?  Then I think I'll wait for the next few versions to come out!  [The type of data file my IC recorder produces seems to only be recognized by the software that came with it....]     [Top of page]

"From Trucks to Computers"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2003  -0700
From: by LNX  [US]

Well I will try this again, while replying to your e-mail we had a power interruption which caused me to lose everything I had all ready written.  I really need to get a power backup - they are cheap enough, or learn to save more as I write.

I only have two computer systems - one that I built after I started collage.  It's running an Athlon 1GHz processor with 512MB of SDRAM and two HD's.  The OS is W-98SE.  I really want to load W-2000 Pro, but I figure "don't fix it till it's broke".  The other is a Pentium-200MHz with 256MB of RAM.  I gave it to my daughter after I built this one.  It still works fine for a four-year-old machine.  The only repair I have had to do to it is put in a new hard drive.

As for Linux... I had my first experience with it last quarter in school.  I was very impressed with it as an OS (RedHat 7.2).  Loved it, but it took me a while to get used to it.  We didn't use the GUI's at first, and I never got to set up the e-mail portion of it.  One day soon I will look in the paper for a good used system and load it on there.  Buying computers through the ads in the paper can yield some great bargains (under $75.00).  Or you can now purchase a good new system at Best Buy for under $500.00

I refuse to buy a computer form a big manufacturer, as you don't have any control over it.  I love building computer systems, and with a little shopping around you can build a very nice system for not that much.

To explain the school thing, I am in the 6th quarter of a two-year program (eight quarters) to get my degree (associate) in computer networking.  As for OS's, we have done Windows NT, 2000 Pro, 2000 Server, Advanced Server, Linux, and Novell 6.0.  At the age of 42 I decided to go back to school, because I didn't want to be a truck driver all my life.  Not that there is anything wrong with driving trucks - I do love to drive the big rigs, but there is really no chance for advancement.  The biggest thing you can look forward to, is the company trusting you enough to buy you a new state-of-the-art truck.  I look around at the older truck drivers, and I really don't want to turn out like them at the age of 50.  I know it is a risk to do this at 42, but I figure if you don't take a few risks in life, you just end up standing in one spot.


"Waiting for a Friend"     [Top of page]

(2003/03/27  20:15  Ochanomizu coffee shop)  Today is Thursday... Friday, the weekend, and my last day at the company - Monday.  I got to the time clock five minutes early, so I took the stairs down to the fifth floor and stepped into the dark conference room (called the "Presentation Room", but although the room is well wired and set up for presentations, it doesn't seem to be used that way much).  I walked back to the far side of the room and took a seat in a chair I had often sat in before.  As I sat there, I had a distinct feeling of there being unfinished business awaiting activation.  I'm not sure what that means, but that's how it felt.

Now I'm waiting in the coffee shop near Ochanomizu Station for a soon-to-be former workmate.  The coffee shop scene in Tokyo has changed radically in the past 18 years.  Wow... 18 years... no surprise that things have changed, hey?  In any case, the old coffee shops (this one included) sold expensive coffee, but you could spend a lot of time in them, reading magazines, talking with a friend... etc., which still sort of holds true for the newer ones, except the coffee is cheaper, and there is more pressure to not stay overly long, and so the atmosphere is sort of like a fast-food place.

"Transatlantic Trips & Garden Houses"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003  +0100
From: SAJ  [US / Holland]

Life has not changed too much since I last wrote you.  I can't seem to remember when that was but I fear it has been close to a year.  I have made a few trips to the States both alone and with Aabbb.  I enjoy my trips alone for the fact that I don't have to worry if Aabbb is bored while I shop or visit with family or friends.  Last May/June I had a great time in the States.  I spent most of my time on the beach walking and exploring paths leading from the beach over to the bay.  I came across an Indian Mound one day.  If my friend and I hadn't seen a tiny little sign warning not to disturb it, we would have thought it was just bay bottom dumped there from the Intercoastal Waterway.  The little paths leading off the beach are inconspicuous, and this beach isn't used by many people, so you can see the way it used to look before Florida became overrun by people.  At night I would go back to the beach and watch for turtles coming up to lay their eggs.  What a sight to see.  I love going back to Florida during that time of year.

We got a golden retriever in October.  We named him Jazz.  It has been great having a dog around.  He is a lot of company for me, and I enjoy our walks together.  We have been very lucky with him - he hasn't chewed up anything in the house - not one tooth mark on anything.  House breaking was easy too.  But of course he is not perfect.  We have had a lot of trouble with him pulling when we walk him, and also with him wanting to greet everyone.  Combine the two and you have trouble!  Classes didn't help much either.  I had to go back to the States in February, and Jazz went to stay with the breeder we bought him from.  When I returned, he was so much better.  While he still wants to greet people, he won't unless they say something to him first.  He hardly ever pulls at the leash any longer either.  The breeder said she didn't work with him at all, so I don't know what brought the change on.  I am just happy he has gotten better.

My stepfather died last February, which is why I had to go back to the States.  I spent the month helping my mom cope and dealing with all the issues that accrue when a spouse dies.  It was nice they had things more or less in order, but it was stressful nevertheless.  I felt like I was the only one taking care of things, even though I have two brothers - both of them older then me.  One lives less then two miles from our house in Florida, and he called to check up on things once during that month I was there.  While my other brother lives out of state and wasn't able to be much help, at least he called Mom almost every day, sometimes twice a day.  The house was a mess when I got there, since Mom had put all of her energy into taking care of her husband since he became ill last October.  So I spent the first thirteen days cleaning eight to fourteen hours a day.  Now don't get me wrong, the house wasn't so bad that if you walked in you wouldn't want to sit anywhere.  It was just dusty and I figured I would do a good spring-cleaning and clean some of the stuff out.  (Okay, a lot of stuff!)  Anyway I came back to Holland in March, and it was good to get home again.  But I came home worrying about Mom being alone in that big house.  She really wasn't taking her husband's death well... saying she was ready to die herself since she had lost the love of her life.

After getting back home to Holland, we started looking for what is called a Garden House.  A Garden House is something like a one-room cabin of sorts, which is part of a group of cabins that make up a small neighborhood.  Some of these Garden Houses are very nice, while others are nothing but a shed that looks as though it will fall down at any moment, and is used only to grow a vegetable garden.  What we wanted was something in a nice little neighborhood where Mom could spend part of the summer.  We found one a 30 minute walk from here.  The Garden Park sets next to a big public park that has lots of bike and foot paths, a few ponds, open fields along with groves of trees, a petting zoo and restaurant.  In a ten to fifteen minute walk, you can catch a tram or metro.  These garden parks have fairly strict rules - yards have to kept up and looking natural, which means no fencing that would stand out, and no brick houses etc....  It comes with water, but no electricity.  You can stay overnight in the cabins from April 1st through to the end of October.  During the off-season, only daytime use is allowed.  Normally there is a waiting list for these, but we lucked out since this year so many older people decided it was too much for them, and were selling.  We looked at several and found one that seemed to suit us.  It has a toilet, but no shower, a kitchen, but needs a stove and refrigerator (which we can pick up second hand).  The yard needs cleaning up, but I enjoy working outdoors.  Many people don't do anything to their yards during the off-season (which is allowed) and it looks like this place didn't have much done in-season either the last couple of years.  Anyway, we are to close on the house this Saturday and then we will start fixing it up.  First thing is to put a shower in.  We have made plans for Mom to come over for three months this summer, and she will be able to live in the Garden House while she is here.  She is looking forward to it and it will ease my mind to be able to keep an eye on her.

That brings me up to date with things.  Aabbb is in Germany this week, and I am doing some sewing while he is gone.  It's nice to just leave all that sewing stuff out and walk away from it until you are ready to get back to it the next day.

SAJ     [Top of page]

"What's For Dinner?"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003
From: GTK  [US]
Being called "Mom"

........ I live in Seattle, Washington.  As a small child, I grew up with various friends of my two brothers, who always come in the back door and - checking on what my Mom was cooking for dinner - would smile and ask if they could stay for dinner.  Of course, Mom would say yes, and add to the pot.  Kids, no matter how big or old, were never turned away.  I gained so many big brothers throughout the years.  It was great!

I have been married myself now for nearly 22 years, and we have two daughters.  One daughter is 20, married, pregnant and in the US Army, and our other daughter turns 18 in May.  She is still in high school and leading a very active & busy teenager's life.  She is so much fun to chat with, as the hobby of the year is "Boys".  As the kids have grown, they too have brought kids into our home and I became like my Mom.  Which isn't so bad.  If kids come over and dinner is being fixed, I just add to the pot and feed one more mouth.  As long as I get a thank you, I'm happy to feed them.



"Where to Live - That is the Question"     [Top of page]

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003  +0000
From: NBN  [UK]

................ my son and his finance got engaged in August 2001.  As he wants to stay in Leicester (England) and his finance wants to stay in Copenhagen (Denmark), I wonder if they will ever get married!  One visits the other every month for about a week.  In August they went on holiday to Canada for a week (Toronto and Niagara).  They saw all the sights, went up the Toronto (CN) tower, and also the Tower at Niagara.  Went on the "Maid of the Mist" boat - right up to the Falls and also went in the tunnels (or passages or whatever you call them) that go to the back of the Falls.  They also crossed the Rainbow Bridge to see the falls from the American side in New York State.  While in Niagara, they also took a boat trip on Lake Ontario.  .............................


Okay - I'm running shy on time today, so I think I'll call this one a wrap.  I'm going to send this out from the 7th floor conference room, and then clear out in time for a probable meeting here of the big bosses later in the day.

Sore dewa!

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon, Images Through Glass
LLLetters@yahoo.com - Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo
March 28th, 2003 - (KFMM-18/LL317/HRE040615)
[Top of page]