Pictures as Promised

Good old Rob–got the pictures uploaded! Here is a sampling of out most recent endeavors:

Our house is on the right--it's difficult to photograph.

Just because--Chip at the Navy Lodge

Small cute thing in my arms: Chip. Small cute thing next to me:The Duet!

Mt. Fuji from Morito Beach, near our house.

On the right, Mr. Fuji. On the left, the sun.

Japanese ladies, boot-scooting their little hearts out at the "Spring Festa" on base.


I Don’t Understand My House

When I was getting used to life in Mauritania I used to think, “Wow, this is really difficult, but I can’t imagine a Mauritanian having to figure out life in the U.S. I can understand an outhouse, a well, and how to catch a donkey cart to the market. Imagine trying to decipher a microwave for the first time, or the Metro, or an ATM–especially when you’re functionally illiterate.” Well, now I understand. My beautiful little Japanese house, into which we moved yesterday, has flummoxed me at every turn.

Fortunately, most of the technology is superfluous. I can’t figure out how to turn on the bathtub from the kitchen, but that’s okay. Since my bathtub is only about 12 feet from my kitchen if I ever really need to turn it on while I’m making soup or something, I am just fine with walking that distance. Theoretically, I can also use an intercom once in the bathtub, which actually might be useful for summoning someone to bring me a glass of wine while I am soaking. When I tried to operate it yesterday though, a perky Japanese lady’s voice started talking to me. What was she saying? “Hot water coming?” “Enjoy your bath?” “The scary-looking gas tanks just outside the window that heat the water are about to explode?”

Our doorbell has a camera that takes pictures of people automatically when they get to the door. Unfortunately, I can’t erase the awful picture it took of me. I can’t figure out how the wall heating units work, which is frustrating as our little house is so cold. I am too frightened to do laundry. A dishwasher came yesterday and I was so overwhelmed I sent it back. Even the lights have remote controls. Was there anything wrong the humble wall-mounted light switch, I ask?

But, oh, the toilets. Seat warmers, “lady washers” (the translation is not mine), and even a faucet to wash your hands that is mounted above the tank. The water from washing your hands then goes into the toilet’s tank to fill it, and is used for the next flush. Now that is great design.

Also great: the view from our beach “on a clear day,” which yesterday was. Right smack in the middle of a gentle mountain chain was Mr. Fuji. He wasn’t just a speck on the horizon–it was like someone set Mount St. Helens down on Virginia Beach. Rob and I had a Sapporo (Chip passed on cocktails) and watched the sun set behind Fuji. I guess I’m really in Japan.

Ms. Perfect

How could I have forgotten such an excellent gloating opportunity in my last post? So, as part of our “Area Orientation Brief” last week, we took our written tests for our driver’s license. The prize for a perfect written test? One gets to take the behind-the-wheel portion instantly (rather than scheduling it for the following week), thus enabling one to get one’s license immediately, thus enabling one to buy a car. Guess which Watts scored a 100% on their driver’s test? No, not Chip (though he is so advanced)…ME! Lucky Rob, who scored a paltry 98%, was able to ride my coattails and take his behind-the-wheel test, too, and thus we are both licensed. But only I am perfect.

As a token of his gratitude, Rob bought us a car. It is a 1999 Toyota “Duet.” Google it–it is precious. We should have it by Tuesday–hopefully in time to move the futon to Hayama, so Rob doesn’t have to drag it on the train again. The Duet is a beater, with all the get-up-and-go of a golf cart. Let’s hope we can squeeze 18 months out of her.

In cross-cultural news, today was the Yokosuka base’s “Spring Festa” (not a typo). The base was open to Japanese visitors, ostensibly to see the cherry blossoms. As it is about 45 degrees, cloudy, and the flowers are only beginning to bloom, I was perplexed to see thousands and thousands of Japanese flooding on to base. I soon realized they were here for the McDonald’s! And the Sbarro! And the Dunkin’ Donuts! Seriously, the line to get a Sbarro pizza was about a hundred deep. I saw one little old lady loading up her shopping cart with a take-out pizza, a box of Dunkin’ Donuts, a case of Gatorade, a case of Budweiser, and a shopping bag full of Doritos. Apparently, junk food is the international language. Japan, on behalf of American, I apologize. I’m just glad you were enjoying yourself.

I can’t even describe the Japanese women’s group performing country line dances, in cowboy hats, for the crowd. I promise pictures.

Mr. Fuji

I saw Mount Fuji! It seems like every location around here advertises that from it, one can see Mount Fuji “on a clear day.” It’s like the “George Washington slept here” of Japan. I was doubtful of these claims, especially during the one windy day we were inhaling the remnants of a Chinese sandstorm. Rob and I even have a bet about how many times we will actually see Mt. Fuji here–my guess was 4. But sure enough, the other morning was clear as a bell and there was Mt. Fuji looming serenely over the base. The Japanese call it Fuji-san, and I think it is very respectful to give the mountain its due honorific. So I was very pleased to say “Good Morning” to Mr. Fuji.

Rob and I survived our “Area Orientation Brief and Inter-Cultural Relations” class, and Chip survived his first week of day care. The class was great, although a lot of the content focused on things appropriate to the young sailor on his or her first deployment–please don’t get too drunk, please don’t deface shrines, please don’t assault cab drivers. The Japanese take honor and responsibility so seriously that when an American does bad things Admirals have to apologize, and they just have better things to do. The best day of the class was when they took us to the train station and turned us loose. Rob and I had a nice day in a gigantic department store in Yokohama (we would have done something more culturally-enriching outdoors, but it was 40 degrees and pouring. Besides, as Prof. Longstreth always said, you can learn a lot about a culture from its department stores).  Everything was so beautiful, and so expensive. The whole experience was a bit overwhelming for the eyes. You could get your complete spring Burberry line or a $25,000 kimono. There was almost an entire floor devoted to bento boxes. The basement food stores were fascinating; I sampled cherry-blossom tea and was thrilled to find soft-serve ice cream. Rob was thrilled to find the Japanese J. Press, although not much would have fit him. Not much would have fit me, come to think of it.

The other day we also got our cell phones, so if you are in Japan, call me. Here are the things that I can do on my FREE cell phone (I can only imagine what the one that cost $500 does):

  • Text.
  • E-mail.
  • Take better-quality photos than on my digital camera.
  • Listen to mp3s.
  • Play games.
  • Watch and record Japanese television.
  • Use it as a flashlight–it has an actual flashlight built-in, not just the screen.
  • Receive early earthquake warnings.
  • Get people’s contact information simply by TOUCHING PHONES! No more laborious physical typing in of the name and number into my contact book–whew.
  • Translate things into Japanese for me.

Of course, most of this is theoretical. I haven’t actually figured out how to do a lot of it. I haven’t even figured out how to check my voicemail, actually.

We move in to our house on Tuesday! Days left in the Navy Lodge: 3. Since we didn’t have a bed, this morning we went to a beautiful home goods shop nearby on the train (image Bed, Bath & Beyond but totally clean and with a completely tasteful inventory), and bought a futon. As we have no car yet, Rob hauled the futon home on the train. What a husband. Fortunately, the Japanese are too polite to stare. (I promise pictures of that, too, when I get a chance.)

Immigration and Customs

We have arrived in Japan! After two flights to get across the Pacific (I can now confirm firsthand that it must be the world’s biggest ocean) we have made it, and are enjoying the coziness that only sharing one room in the Navy Lodge can bring.

But first, a note on Hawaii. Wow. It’s just wonderful to know that there really are places like that on earth. It was hard to imagine that it was still winter anywhere in the world.  I think I saw four rainbows in the course of a week. The mountains look so green and velvety I just wanted to reach out and run my hands over them. The sun was warm, the trade winds cool, the water turquoise, the shave ice sweet. Architecturally speaking,  Honolulu has some mid-century masterpieces, although they are  in varying states of repair. Staying at the Marine Base at Kaneohe Bay was perfect (although the helicopter training runs over our beach were hardly soothing. Rob really enjoyed them, though). We could trot down to our little beach at anytime and watch the waves break far out at the mouth of Kaneohe Bay. There were several gentle and loving hints dropped to Rob all week along the lines of “Gee, wouldn’t it be swell to live here someday?” I would post pictures, but the Navy Lodge computer won’t let me.

Which brings me back to Japan. We have had a very busy few days including, in true Alden and Rob style, rushing in to renting a house! Ignoring all the wise advice from the housing office, we decided to rent the first house we looked at. It was that lovely. The house is in the little town of Hayama (which means leafy mountain–very apt) and right across the street from a big grey sandy beach. It is about 1100 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, 1 outdoor shower, 1 indoor fish grill, 0 ovens, and infinitely charming. Pictures forthcoming!

So now we just need to get a car (or two), attend our “Area Orientation Brief” where the Navy will teach us all sorts of useful things about living in Japan, and watch all the NCAA tournament games we can while still on base.

The Farewell Tour Continues: Lawrence

There’s no place like home, a wise Kansan once said. After a lovely week in Virginia with lots of kith and kin, I have thoroughly enjoyed being home on the range. Chip survived his first plane trip beautifully, and at the end Rob turned to me and said helpfully, “Two hours of flying down, nineteen more to go.”

Some highlights:

From left: Grandma Betty got Chip a duck bath, hours of fun ensued; Allen Fieldhouse on Senior Night, K-State thoroughly beaten; Me, “Bogus,” and Daddy, Bogus being an old fraternity brother of Daddy. He is wearing the KU sweater that his mother knit him in 1965.