March 28, 2023
Who Feels Personal Peace on Earth? Find out in which countries people feel the most or least at peace.
February 14, 2023
The mild weather continues, and I’m starting to suspect that “winter” might be over. I received a three-year extension on my Temporary Residency; the next one should be permanent. Incredibly, tomorrow I will have been in Mexico one year. And we’re still living out of boxes!
These days I’m putting together what will become two presentations on ChatGPT. One will be in March at Arkansas State University - Querétaro and the other will be at MexTESOL (Guadalajara) in the fall.
This is the month the new car was scheduled to arrive, but I get nothing but silence from the Mazda dealer. Actually started thinking of alternatives, but none are cheap, and I have no idea what the wait is for them, either. What would the alternatives be? Either Subaru BRZ or BMW Mini Cooper S, if you’re curious.
Apropos of nothing, here’s a fun resource. I won’t even try to describe what’s here, just go there, and be sure to play with the Wayback Machine.
Hope you’re having a Happy Valentine’s Day.
January 17, 2023
So, this is 2023.
Our first “winter” in Mexico, and, aside from some chilly mornings, it’s as mild as expected. The new GOP shit-throwing monkeys in the House promise to make this an awful two years in US politics. The yen seems to be gaining back some of its losses, and that’s great news here. Otherwise, business as usual, and that’s just great.
Today marks the 28th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. (Yes, one of the big factors in the Querétaro selection was its freedom from earthquakes.) As this newspaper story notes, more and more people alive today had not been born in 1995. Here is a collection of images courtesy of Google. I’ll save my personal photos for the 30th anniversary.
December 27, 2022
A few days later and it is chillier. If the high is only 65°F, it’s not going to get any warmer inside without heat - unless you’re cooking a pot of soup or a big pot of frijoles. Yes, did that last week. But, went to the DHL in the not-too-far Walmart to ship some Christmas stuff back to Amazon and found two small 1500W heaters for only the equivalent of $18 each.
Less fun was the notice I got from the neighborhood association that because of maintenance, residents would have no water for 24 hours, beginning 10:30 am this morning. It makes sense that what they meant was that service would be intermittent in that period, but that is not whaat they said. Anyway, it’s 2:30 pm and I still have water (and water filled buckets, pots, etc., everywhere). OK.
So, it’s another birthday in a few days. I’ll be spending it alone, which will be nice, as I really don’t like making a big deal about my birthday. I’ll include some indulgences for the day, and that will be enough. I may take a ride to a local restaurant (oh, excuse me, ""bistro”) that serves a really good cheeseburger. Found it my first week here and befriended a very nice server there, too. That, some time with my good headphones and a new amp/DAC that Santa brought me, some guitar time, some alcohol. Good enough to mark the odometer kicking over. How did we get so old?
When I sat down to write this, waiting for the gardeners to come to cut the grass, my task was to seek for a new iPad writing app. Why? It’s a sickness, I guess. Instead, just cracked open Ulysses and started typing. It’s just fine. Actually, better than just fine. Nice tool. Put away the bluetooth keyboard, as it outputs too many double letters, too much bounce. Still, while this iPad is attractive and has some charm, it’s no match for a real keyboard and a Mac. My opinion.
So, the gardeners canceled and came Wednesday. The water testing/maintenance will be rescheduled for next week. It happens.
December 22, 2022
The best I can come up with is that, unless you’re in Ukraine, 2022 was probably a better year than 2021? YMMV.
From where I sit, I can appreciate the lack of a red wave in the November elections, Trump’s taxes made public, the courageous Congressional January 6 Hearings, an apparent diminished virulence and danger of COVID, easing of travel restrictions, the schadenfreude of watching Musk expose his ineptitude via the Twitter fiasco, the yen picking itself up to around ¥133/USD$1 (up from a low of ¥152)…
Closer to home (now Querétaro), ground has been broken on the new house here in Mexico, and progress toward a very nice future home is satisfactory. Alison likes her job, though it consumes much too much of her time and energy. I assume I am closer to accepting delivery of the car I ordered back in August (2023 Mazda 3 AWD Turbo); expected delivery date mid-February. A couple of great guitars and almost enough time to practice with them. Almost enough time to say that I am “reading.” Continued amazement with the climate here. While Chicago and the midwest are being hit with truly awful conditions - temp drops of 309 degrees (F), lots of snow, etc., days here are still in the seventies and nights have not dropped below 40. Still chilly with no heater, but…c’mon.
November 17, 2022
The midterm elections are mostly behind us, and I will join those feeling some relief that the results were not as bad as they could have been. Of course, the House will be a true insane asylum, but hopefully, that will push some centrists back to the blue in 2024. We won’t mention the orange tumor in Florida.
Here in Mexico, things are just fine. The mornings are getting chilly, but the weather in general is glorious. I see that Chicago got its first measurable snow this week. Don’t miss that at all.
At the nearby Texas-based HEB grocery store, we found a smoked, pre-cooked, frozen Butterball Turkey, so we’ll be having a little Thanksgiving this weekend…a little early to treat two colleagues of Alison’s, both Americans. Should be fun.
Ground has been broken on the new house and progress looks good. We measured a .75 mile walk (1.2 km) from where we live now. Getting my money out of a UK-based investment account has been super slow, but at least those are dollars. The yen can stay in Japan until the exchange rate improves. Fingers crossed.
I’ve been enjoying the F1 season, thanks to Fox Sports Premium Mexico. Yes, the announcers speak Spanish, but that’s good practice for me. Even though I am no Maxstappen fan, there have been some very exciting races. One more left, and if the Mercedes rebound is real, there is a chance for some Verstappen-Hamilton drama.
Otherwise, it’s housework, guitar, reading, writing, and a little alcohol. Living the life.
October 13, 2022
Back from four weeks in Chicago about a week now, and, as usual, it seems like ages ago. No wonder, as so much is going on. The last of the January 6 hearings is today. Tomorrow we sign papers (and pay for) the land for the house. Alison still crazy busy with her new job. We have a new Mazda salesperson, as Alfredo is leaving the dealership. My brother, Dave, as a multi-year combo Christmas/birthday present bought me a guitar: an Epiphone ES-339. It came this week and I set it up yesterday. It’s very, very nice. The yen continues to tumble; at 147 today.
The Chicago trip was good. COVID-19 still makes some things difficult, but still managed most of my Chicago things. The weather was great throughout - real Querétaro wether! Missed seeing some people, including Shihan, who had COVID-19 while I was there. Missed a few other folks, too. I did get my full battery of medical tests, and from eyes to the undersides, I seem to be in incredibly good health. Met with both the high school guys and the X1/9 folks, both great times. Vern treated both Dave and I to what must have been an insanely expensive wagyu shabu-shabu dinner. Outrageous!
A lot of the time was low-key, just hanging around the house with the brother, getting some basic chores done: gutters, cement work, restringing guitars, and the like. But staying up so much later each night resulted in a lot more alcohol than usual! Another few videos…another drink. And so on. But, back to normal here in Mexico…which is still enough. I did do a very un-Tony road trip with Rich, a friend from high school. Down to the Shawnee National Forest area in southern Illinois, a five-hour drive. So, very little alcohol, very little online time, and lots of nature and hiking. We did a little cheat camping…make a fire at a campsite, have dinner (pizza!), then head back to the motel for a civilized sleep. Worked out well!
What didn’t work out well, and what was the worst part of the trip was terrible luck with car rental agencies and truly horrific rates. Had arguments with agents about non-mandatory liability insurance, surly agents, a definitely self-destructive Toyota Corolla, and two enormous vehicles: Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler Pacifica.
But that’s all in the rear-view mirror now.
As I mentioned above the new house project is moving to a new phase. Alison will be presenting at a conference in Puebla, and we’ll be spending a few days there. (About 3 hours away.) After all the rental cars, the Mazda CX-30 feels good, and feels like we made the right choice. I hope I am as happy with the Mada 3 when it gets here. And, sure, I still look with envy whenever I see an MX-5 or BRZ speed past.
And, there are still some things to miss about Japan:
August 2, 2022
The elements of my quest:
- Visit immigration office day after arrival in Mexico. After a three-hour wait, instructed to apply for an appointment to request the resident card.
- Attempt to apply for an appointment to request a resident card. On a non-functional web site.
- Hire a “coyote” to guide me through the process.
- Coyote gets me an appointment. Three months in the future. Law says I need one in 30 days. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- (Note: the resident card is the first piece of documentation needed for almost anything: opening a bank account, getting a telephone number, renters’ insurance, etc.)
- Surprise bonus: given the resident card on the day of the appointment. Despite the “appointment,” it’s another three-hour wait.
- OK, next, bank account…two and a half hours.
- Driver’s license? Nope…need “proof of address.” Like a utility bill…but the utilities are all in the owner’s name. (Yes, I have a rental agreement with the address, a car title with the address, and an auto insurance policy with the address…nope.)
- Back to the bank. They issue a bank statement that can serve as proof of address.
- OK, proof of address, in hand…eye exam, written (computer) test, driving test…OK, I have a license, only a week or so before they stop recognizing my Illinois license. And it’s another “proof of address” - even though the address fits neither the bank form or the license.
Next: license plates. SHOULD be relatively easy, but who knows? We’ll find out.
Meanwhile, things are moving along nicely with the design of the house. The renderings have morphed from those of a previously completed project to the kernel of what will be our house. We still have several basic planning meetings, and they plan to break ground in September. With all modesty, it looks amazing.
I mentioned an eye test as part of the license procedure, and, another surprise, I was able to pass the exam without correction of any kind. Well, the tester was very kind, leading me through the last row letter by letter. Incidentally, we had our eyes checked AT COSTCO the Monday before. Whereas I was once wearing +3.0 contacts, and my script from last year was +1.5, I know see better uncorrected than with last year’s prescription. Ordered a couple of boxes of +0.5 top and +2.5 bottom (for reading) contacts. Good for four weeks, maybe half what I paid in the US.
Alison landed the FT job at the university she had been in discussions with and she’ll be working soon. That means I will be ordering “my” car sooner rather than later. Looking today like it will have to be a white Mazda MX-5. Zoom zoom.
June 19, 2022
So, we have taken possession of the Mazda CX-30 and it’s just fine. Still not confident about its care and feeding, as it’s been a long time since I’ve driven anything but rentals. Modern car, I guess, and less care and maintenance should be needed. It got its first bath today.
But, bigger news. Our intensive house hunting has come to an early end. Hallelujah. We have contracted (kinda) with a team of architects/builders to build a house here in Zibatá. They seem solid, as do the projects of theirs that we’ve seen. Alison is all in on the design, actively working with the architects, too many amazing features to list here. Custom all the way down. Good location with good views and advantageous angles with neighboring houses. It should be spectacular. They have committed to our specified budget. Amazing. Target completion date, April 2023. We were justifiably happy and proud of our place in Osaka…penthouse, with an enormous (by Japan standards) rooftop terrace. There is no comparison.
On the hassle end of the spectrum, it looks as if I will need to bifurcate my Chicago visit with a hop to Japan to tie up loose ends - close out bank accounts, basically. Let’s hope the yen lifts itself off the canvas before then.
I am totally lost on the question of “my” wheels. I was resigning myself to us being a one-car unit, but it became apparent that Alison is into the CX-30 being “her” car, so I need something of my own. An old decrepit sports car would be fun, but I know I need 100% reliability. Have toyed with the idea of a BMW Mini, but it’s FWD and overpriced (here). A Mazda MX-5, my YOLO option, is $6K less. But that needs to wait until after my Chicago/Japan trip. A nice Christmas present it will be, whatever I decide on.
Meanwhile, Amazon keeps bringing more furniture pieces (office desks, cabinets) and other items to unpack and assemble. We have arranged a shared office, maybe as an experiment, I think. I have moved operations from one of the bedrooms to this shared space. She’ll make the move up here soon. It’s a nice space, but a little tight for two. Maybe it gives me an excuse to buy some new sound-isolating headphones.
But here we are. Monday is our wedding anniversary, #18. Maybe we’ll try that supposedly good Japanese restaurant down the road.
The hardest part about living where we are now? Realizing I don’t need to worry about a next earthquake.
May 15, 2022
Friday the Thirteenth: There are a number of stories about the origins of the belief of this being an unlucky day.
For me, 5/13/22 was anything but unlucky.
It was FINALLY the day of my appointment with the Mexico Department of Immigration to REQUEST my resident card. This card is required for almost any official business in Mexico: opening a bank account, buying a car, etc.
Unbeknownst to either my hired coyote or myself, it was the first day for new policies and procedures at the department. No longer would hopefuls need to request and then wait for their cards to be issued at some point in the future. Starting that day, the cards were being issued on the SAME DAY.
So, yes, I now have my official resident card. I’m still having a hard time believing it. This also means that our personal belongings can be shipped to Mexico from Japan, maybe arriving early July. We’ll see.
Plus, my representative at the Mazda dealership tells me our red CX-30 should be ready for delivery the first week of June.
I celebrated with a couple of Modelos Especiales and a Three-Cheese Bacon Burger at a local spot I discovered my first week living here. (See February 27, Chapter 6, below.) Luckily, Airi is working. She’s finishing her first university year and we have a great talk. Of course, the weather is perfect, as it almost always is. (Bocuze Bistro)
Alison arrives Tuesday, she should receive her card next Friday…
Can’t wait for the next Friday the Thirteenth (January 2023).
May 11, 2022
Internet is down again, so I’ll take the opportunity to get this ready for uploading once the road is open. It looks as if it may have been down about three hours already, but I was busy studying Spanish and then assembling a couple of chairs…that came without instructions, of course.
May 10, 2022
No didn’t miss it! Did get to watch the Miami F1 GP flag to flag, if in Spanish. A side window with live streaming English text commentary helped. OK, not a nail-biter, with Maxstappen in control, but some good racing way in the back, and after a late race incident tightened up the field there was some truly good racing going on. I’m on a free 7-day Fox Sports trial here in Mexico…will need to look at details to see if I will continue.
Met my coyote downtown for some small prep for my meeting on Friday with Immigration. Of course, waiting was involved. Traffic was crazy, even without the car vs. light pole incident choking my route home. Very different from up here on the mountain. And it’s not just traffic. Reminded anew at how different everything is down in the city. There are many Mexicos. Many Japans. And so on.
May 8, 2022
One observation is that I am getting a whole lot of practice waiting. Waiting for my resident card appointment, waiting for our car to get off the boat, waiting for our belongings to get shipped, waiting for people to get back to me, waiting for internet service to go back up (again)…time is different.
I’ll use the time to write tis, tweak the drawers on the desk we bought so that they stay on their tracks, and pick up the guitar. Maybe when I’m through with lunch, service will be back up.
Because of my catch-22 situation of being in Mexico but having only US credit cards (see resident card, above…and below), I’ve been unable to subscribe to anything that gives me access to live F1 viewing. Friday Night Baseball is no substitute. If I can get online, at least I can follow the events in real time on the F1 website. Not a substitute, either, but it will have to do. Miami apparently is putting on a real show. Too bad I’m missing it.
April 28, 2022
As I continue to wait for my resident card request appointment, things have settled down a bit. There’s a new desk for the kitchen area (the bill-paying desk it’s called). I’ve reinforced the guest bed frame again. It was fine with vertical loads, but I didn’t account for the considerable lateral forces that might be generated by a Mexican housecleaner. So, it was back to Home Depot. Never knew I had a green thumb, but the small lawn here is transformed. I’ll be reducing the watering to slow down the growth a bit.
April 14, 2022
(Scroll down for previous reports on the Mexico adventure.)
It has been two months since that plane brought me here from Japan. Little by little, things are shaping up.
Most recently, I got myself a guitar. A somewhat overdue retirement present from Alison. It’s a black Fender Strat, but it’s special in that the neck is a bit narrower than the standard Stratocasters’. Also interesting is that after enough YouTube videos and the purchase of some special tools, I had the confidence to tackle the basic setup myself. I am extremely happy with the guitar and the results of the setup. It’s a dream to play. Love it.
There’s also a dining room set that I assembled on a Saturday morning. White and natural light wood, faux Eames chairs. Next to that, still in the box, is the “kitchen” desk. Next week.
Today - and the reason I have time to be writing this - my internet is out. It seems the affected area is large…and was affecting people at least a day ago. Not good. Not good. Moving to Mexico, I knew there’d be days like this, but it’s another thing when the day is today.
The outage prompted me to access the wifi router to poke around and check settings, etc. The wifi coverage at the house has been marginal, and upgrading to 1Gbs service didn’t help much. But I DID increase the output of both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz channels from 50% to 100%. So now my wifi should be better. All I need is net access. Ha.
Next Tuesday is rental car swap day. Through an amigo of an amigo, got a vey good deal and an interesting car. I’ll be driving a 2021 MG for the next few weeks. Yeah, I was surprised, too. I’ll be turning in my VW Vento, which has been a real gas with its manual transmission. Revelatory was that, for a modern car, it doesn’t have much power at all, maybe 110 hp, but that’s about twice what my Fiat X1/9s had. The extra power (it’s OK to laugh) makes the clutch much more forgiving. The manual is a much better fit for the mountain roads. (FYI, I’m 7000 feet up.)
I fired my old gardener (two no-shows and grossly overcharging for his productos) and hired a new crew, and I’ve been trying to get the lawn in decent shape on my own. There is progress, but it’s slow. It was a disaster when I moved in.
Neighborhood news. Last Sunday night / Monday morning (CDST)…was there some huge soccer event in Australia? Around 4 or 5 am, there was a raucous chorus that sounded like stadium singing. I don’t think these were F1 fans cheering for Sergio’s third place finish. The guy across the street got rid of his BMW (after having it detailed in his driveway - and having the job videoed). He replaced it with a black Porsche Carrera. Yeah, and that internet thing. Wonder how long it’ll be down. Well, if you’ve read this, we know! (Down 7 am to 1 pm CDST)
March 26, 2022
With a little help from my friends
Hard to believe that it’s five and a half weeks since I touched down here in Mexico. And that it’s been a month since I’ve posted anything here. Things keep moving, things keep happening.
What hasn’t changed is the appointment for my request for a resident card…which is the key to being able to do almost anything here. I’m legally required to have one 30 days after arrival, but when the wait for the appointment to request the card is 80 days…what’s one to do? Just lie low and fly under the radar, I guess. Am I an illegal immigrant now?
As for progress, I have a microwave, a refrigerator, and a washer-dryer. I have a gardener (with whom I am feuding a bit about grass watering) and a housecleaner. I have put a deposit on a 2022 Mazda CX-30, and the salesman has an uncle who assures us that he has a way I can register (temporarily) and insure the car without the holy resident card. We’re on the waitlist for the car, so we’ll see how that goes.
I was able to get a rental car agency to accept the only slightly outrageously priced Travelocity/AIG insurance instead of the truly criminally priced insurance of the rental agency. It means a total cost factor of four. Four weeks for the price of one.
I have an on-call “assistant” who helps me with negotiations and bureaucracies, but she’s in Paris and Barcelona for two weeks. Before she left we both got our COVID-19 booster shots together (AstraZeneca). Quite an experience. She had a friend. He worked at the vaccination site. When we arrived, the line was more than three blocks long, more than a thousand people, easy. Outside. The city had two sites, but the other was the stadium where the soccer riots occurred, and that had been shut down. So, city of 3.5 million, one vax site. Go figure. <things happened> Avoided the line entirely, but it still took us over 90 minutes. Five hundred people in a gym at a time, nurses (?) just going through each section of 100, jabbing arms. And I made my first Mexican “thank you donation.”
Had another friend find me a really good rental car deal in town, but the timing was wrong, and when I found out, I had just returned from the airport with my new four-week rental - a manual transmission VW Vento. I was feeling quite victorious. But, another connection there for “next time.”
Earlier in the week, mostly assembled a bed frame I’d ordered a week or so back. Just a pile of lumber and a bag of screws, no directions. No decent tools, either. But managed to mostly get it together, but left with lots of drilled holes that don’t line up and will need to get re-drilled. Whenever my drill gets here, maybe July.
Yesterday was a full day. First, water the grass (see gardener, above.) Then, Home Depot for a decent screwdriver and some wood to serve as additional support for the bed frame. After, I stopped for lunch at a taco/burrito place right there where I’d had lunch weeks ago. Very friendly owner, very kind, decent English. After I’d finished, he dragged me through the outdoor mall to a Japanese lunch place that had just opened up. (Ha, yes, I can speak Japanese, Juan!) The mama-san was naturally surprised and we had a short chat, and I guess on my next visit to Home Depot I’ll be having some Katsudon. Also, right there is a grocery store where I stocked up for the week.
But, then…back in the car…iPhone cannot reach the server. No cellular, no GPS. Now, driving in Mexico is not THAT hard. Drivers are generally courteous. The signs are all in Roman characters, for example. People drive on the right side of the road. At least, when there are signs. And I grew up on Chicago’s dead-simple flat grid and not these mountain roads on which u-turns replace cloverleafs and are part of any driving journey. Luckily, I had done this route before, and when I stopped at what I thought was halfway home (I was right!) I was able to get a signal to bring me in.
Meanwhile, back in Osaka, Alison has been left with the brunt of the final cleanup, disposal, and turnover of the condo. Incredible pressure and volume of work, compounded by all the bureaucratic and business minutiae I dealt with, PLUS the other institutional madness that the university is subjecting her to. I know she’s too busy for a lot of the emotional whack to hit her, but I know it will. She has to leave the condo by 3/31, and will be spending the last month there at an Air B&B near a friend’s apartment. A very hard time for her. The nosedive the yen has taken doesn’t help either of us, either.
And so we plod on.
Yet, despite all that, when the dust settles and we get on track here, it’s gonna be great.
February 27, 2022
Hard days, so I forgot this nice little bit. Part One of this saga (February 24, scroll down) benefits from this song playing in the background. Flying Over Water, Jason Isbell.
"Flying Over Water"
From the sky, we look so organized and brave
Walls that make up barricades and graves
Daddy's little empire, built by hands and built by slaves
From the sky, we look so organized and brave
In the heat, I saw you rising from the dirt
Drunken tears and tugging at your skirt
If only you could tell me then, what part of you got hurt
In the heat, I saw you rising from the dirt
Take my hand baby, we're over land
I know flying over water makes you cry
Where's that liquor cart, maybe we shouldn't start
But I can't for the life of me say why
From the sky the highway's straight as it could be
A string pulled tight from home to Tennessee
And still, somehow, those ditches took the better part of me
From the sky, the highway's straight as it could be
Take my hand baby, we're over land
I know flying over water makes you cry
Been in the sky so long, seems like the long way home
But I can't for the life of me say why
Do we leave our love behind?
Would we leave our love behind?
Did we leave our love behind?
Would we leave our love behind?
Take my hand baby, we're over land
I know flying over water makes you cry
Been in the sky so long, seems like the long way home
But I can't for the life of me say why
Did we leave our love behind?
Did we leave our love behind?
日本を離れる / Llego a México - Part 2
(Part 1 below, February 24)
Chapter 4 - Instituto Nacional de Migración
Every ex-pat has an immigration story, and most of us have several. I’m in the middle of a new one.
With great effort, Alison and I received our Temporary Resident Visas before I left Japan. Among the rules is/are, after arriving in Mexico, I have 30 days to get (request?) a Resident Card. With the resident card comes a magic number, probably similar to a Social Security number in the US or a MyNumber card in Japan. It’s what I need to open a bank account, get a real cell phone account, register a vehicle, insure a vehicle…so, yeah, important.
So, zombie or no, at 9 am I am on the phone. At 9:30 I am still on the phone, and no closer to getting this card than I was in Osaka. Fine…I knew i'd be going to immigration, so into the car and off I go.
The first guard says I need an appointment to get in. I start flashing papers, speaking English, and giving sad doggie eyes. OK, I’m in. So, this is going to be OK! The second guard says with no appointment, it will be a while. OK, I can live with that. I have a phone and no schedule. And it’s Mexico.
About two and a half hours later I and my two appointment-less colleagues get the call. Up the stairs we go. Another wait. But the wait eventually ends.
Oops, this one speaks no English. Sit and wait, please. Not too long. But. Now I learn that this is just an information session, where I am told what documents I need, what procedures need to be followed, what fees need to be paid, and I am given the secret URL to request an appointment to submit my request.
I don’t want to ask, but I have to. How long will it take to get the appointment? (Remember all the things that require this card.) Well, you see how busy we are…it might be the end of March.
Try to imagine my face. It must have been something, since the woman, trying to be kind said, “It’s not hard to stay here, señor.”
Since then I have used the magic URL three times to request an appointment. So far, nada.
This is the card I need to open a bank account, get cell service, register and insure (but not buy) a car, and probably a bunch of other things I absolutely need to do right now.
Chapter 5 - Vamos a Van Gogh!
At this point - only 48 hours since landing - I am in full zombie mode. I have accepted that I will never drive directly to the hotel where I’m staying without getting lost at least once. On a deeper level, I understand that I never want to be further out on this limb than I am these days.
The house key date gets bumped up a day, but it hardly registers. We meet at the house, I get the keys on Thursday, but won’t “move in” with my four pieces of luggage until Friday.
So, the next day I find myself in a nice, new, huge (by Japanese standards) townhouse. The owner’s mom, who had been living here while her own house was getting built on the next block, was kind enough to leave behind some stuff for me to use. A folding table, two chairs, two twin beds with pillows. There is a built-in desk in one of the four bedrooms. There is wi-fi and even optical fiber, but the owner has opted for an economy package giving me only 50 Mbps down. But it’s a rock-solid 50. I’ll live, at least for a while.
I am continually surprised at how big the place is: four bedrooms with a huge living-dining area and three and a half baths. My first night I think I hear footsteps, and the next day plan some urban incursion countermeasures.
The next day I awake to the emptiness of this huge place. Aside, of course, from being alone, it hits me how much it will take to fill this place. Bath mats, scotch tape, dish drying rack, laundry basket. Oh…washer-dryer, refrigerator, microwave…
Empty is empty.
A novelty to almost anyone reading this: no heat, no AC. No need. No 4:30 am sunrises in the summer, no 4:30 pm sunsets in the winter. Yowza.
The next days are a contest between Bezos and myself to see who can get more STUFF into the place. The fight continues.
Chapter 6 - The Community
Our immediate walled area is called Van Gogh. We live in Van Gogh 61. It’s part of a much larger development area, or town, called Zibatá. The development is growing rapidly and now there are at least three or four outdoor malls nearby with all kinds of conveniences: convenience stores, cafés, restaurants, laundry services, a butcher, a greengrocer. The best Japanese restaurant in Querétaro (OK, low bar) is a 20-minute walk away.
The view is the dictionary picture for “cookie-cutter housing.” Sterile. But new and shiny. Safe. It’s OK, we’re renting. It’s temporary. Baby steps.
Now, here are a few vignettes to offset all that initial uncertainty and trepidation and all the reservations about sterile suburbia.
In the first of the several small malls that I discover in the area, I choose a birria (goat and/or sheep) place for my first neighborhood meal. I order the traditional stew. The owner/manager senses my nervousness - and my bad Spanish, let’s be honest - and in his own broken English, says it’s OK to use English. I order the traditional birria stew. It’s very good.
As I’m paying he asks how it was. I tell him, and he offers…in Spanish, apologizing that he can’t say it in English…how, for him, it’s the same thing every day, so he can’t tell. I say that to me it’s both special and delicious. No birria in Osaka, after all. And we talk a bit…where from, the Japan thing, and hell, yeah, I’ll be back. Once Alison gets here, for sure. As Alison added tearfully when I told her the story, “One day and you made a friend.” Those who know me know what an introvert I am. Toto, I don't think we're in Osaka anymore. Maybe her first meal here will be birria, too.
A day or two later I stop at a somewhat precious “bistro” for a bite. Nice day, al fresco. In another small mall, this one where I’m picking up the laundry I dropped off two days ago. Remember, I’m basically living out of suitcases for a couple of months.
A friendly waitress takes my drink order (ginger ale), and remarks…you’re not from around here, are you? She points to my Van Gogh COVID mask. (But, I know it’s my Spanish again.) I explain, that, yes, I just arrived a few days ago, but had just moved to Van Gogh. <points at mask> Laughter.
She recommends the three-cheese bacon burger. It’s huge. Over the course of lunch we discuss not only my situation, but hers: from Mexico City, moved with family about six years ago, attending local university, majoring in psych. Name of Ai-ee-ri…Hawaiian. Her mother didn’t want a name that could be shortened to a nickname. I refrain from calling her Aichan. Her brother doesn’t like studying in Canada, but it’s his first year and she thinks it’s just that he’s out of his comfort zone for the first time. Psych major. Handai caliber.
After one of my numerous trips to Home Depot (yes, that Home Depot), I explore the area around it and find a Walmart Comer (eat, food) and an interesting taco place just opening up for the day.
I ask if he’s open and he says yes, switching to English in response to my terrible accent. He guesses Canadian, but I say Chicago. He offers to make me a delicious steak arrachera burrito, adding that he often has to explain what a burrito is to people from Querétaro.
He’s hot on a half-Mexican singer-songwriter from Chicago that I don’t know. He plays some tunes on the box. OK. I take half the burrito home, and as I’m leaving he hands me a flier with the restaurant phone number, but adds the offer of help if I need it. “You’re not alone,” he says.
Bienvenido a México.
More to come…
February 24, 2022
日本を離れる / Llego a México - Part 1
Chapter One - The Last Days
The last days - of whatever - are never what you think they’re going to be. I should have learned this by now.
They turned out to be days of frantic packing, everything taking longer than expected. This is even after the shippers had visited and sucked up everything we were taking to Mexico, packed it all in boxes, and trucked them to Amagasaki, according to my AirTags. Nothing can get shipped until I have a number that comes with my request for a Resident Card. (Just wait - Chapter 4.)
So, for better or worse, there was no time to reflect, to savor, to shed a tear at the end of 32 (33?) years in Japan. Just focus on the immediate task. No visit to the Ishibashi neighborhood where I lived in 1988. No last shabu-shabu at the local restaurant. No last “nice dinner out.” No goodbye to my faithful crew at the Nakano liquor store across the street. Just hard decisions on what to toss and what to try to stuff into suitcases.
The weeks before, I was able to get together with some of my closest friends in Japan (with a nod to Wrighto) and even some people from my early days. COVID didn’t help. Alison made sure I had a day to spend in Kyoto, where, in my first year I spent so much time sightseeing and just trying to grok that I was actually in Japan. A picture I took of the Kyoto hills from Shijo is now the login screen on my Mac.
The actual last day begins with a trip to the airport - for my pre-flight COVID-19 test. A pleasant surprise is that it was free. Pleasant, but no surprise, I test negative. Alison is nice enough to come along, and the slow route to and from, with a stop for take-out McDonald’s on the way home is as much of a romantic good-bye as we’re going to get.
I think the daze already had begun to settle in by then. I’d surrendered to autopilot and I wasn’t going to be reaching for the control stick for a while. I’m no longer really aware of who I am or what I’m doing. Knowing might stop me. Just shut me down completely. I plod on.
Chapter Two - Departure: Tuesday, February 15
Departure day begins early, as it always does…up around 3 to make the first flight out of Itami at 8:30 am. Alison and I have our last chu-hais in Japan together and I shuffle through security to the gate. (Why doesn’t anything feel like anything?)
The only thing I remember about the Itami-Haneda flight is that it wasn’t crowded. The flight from Haneda to Dallas was also far from full, and even though I was in Business with seven other souls, the usual frisson of not being in Economy just wasn’t there. It COULD have been mostly me, but it seemed to me that the JAL staff were having a rare off day, as well.
As we fly east, I drink less than usual, enjoy the food less than usual, and feel - I can almost watch it happen - myself withdrawing into my own little defensive shell. I guess it’s fear? Could be that simple. I remain disconnected from the reality that I assume still surrounds me.
Chapter Three - Arrival: Tuesday, February 15
Mostly, I’m lucky.
The first immigration guy has tunnel vision that made me feel like I was back in Japan. Despite the big, colorful resident visa in my passport, he can’t see me as anything other than a tourist. His colleague steps over and everything is OK.
Luck hits as I get the green light. Not that I’m bringing in AK47s and cocaine, but since I’m “moving” on this trip, there’s a lot of stuff I’d rather not have to explain. And I have a lot of stuff. The green light saves me from that.
The time I save there I lose renting the car. No problems, and the guy doesn’t fight me on the insurance, since I have A PIECE OF PAPER. Can’t argue with that. But I get stuck with a very red Kia Rio.
So, exhausted, jet-lagged, and bordering on a breakdown, Apple Maps’ guidance and I try to find this hotel. It’s nearly impossible to drive to, reachable only from the north. In a really ugly industrial area, too. Why choose this place? Close to the Immigration Office.
The hotel is found. I check in. Full zombie mode. I have dinner at the hotel. No idea what. Maybe tacos. I crash.
More to come…
January 18, 2022
Eighteen days into the new year and I can’t tell if it feels like many more or many fewer. The calendar has been upended and thrown into disarray more than once, and today is another one spent trying to re-assemble or create from new some kind of plan that can work. It’s not easy. Of course, all this under the cloud of COVID-19, and both Tokyo and Osaka are about to back under semi-emergency lockdown. What that will mean for our appointment in Tokyo at the Mexican Embassy is anyone’s guess.
Alison and I did manage a fast trip to Himeji and Hiroshima - just before Hiroshima itself went on semi-emergency lockdown. I also want to manage a final solo trip to Kyoto so I can try to feel a bit of what I felt going there my first year here, 1988: standing on the Gojo bridge, looking up the Kamogawa to the purple northern hills, trying to grok that I was actually there, in Kyoto. In Japan. I’m thinking that will come easily. Looking forward to that moment.
It reminds me a bit of 1989, when I returned to Chicago after one year in Osaka. Severe reverse culture shock. One day before returning to my old job, I got into my black 1982 Fiat X1/9 that I’d kept in storage for the year and headed to my special place - the Chicago lakefront. They’d already played a bit with the geography enough to confuse me a little, but this was before the major Chicago-style re-everything about that part of the city. Against all expectation, parking was a breeze. Just drive out onto the mini-penninsula that was home to the planetarium and pull up to the curb. Pretty sure it was free. Nice, brisk Chicago spring day. (All those adjectives are significant.) Might have had a beer with me, and I found a spot with a great view of the city’s skyline (is there a bad spot?). Let it all sink in. I was here. Before I was there. Before that I was here. No one in my life had any idea. It’s not so different now. It won’t be so different on that bridge. You look around, you take stock, you assess. You try to make sense of it all. Then you act.
I also was able to connect with a colleague from 25 years ago. Michiyo was one of my very few allies in a serious political war at the semmongakko where we worked together. That’s what I remember. What she remembers (and I don’t) was all the help I was to her and how I inspired her to study in California, obtain a Child Development certificate, and embark on a Child Development career. e tried to reconcile our memories of those long-gone days. She’s married to a doctor and has a 23-year-old son who is studying to be one, too. I let her buy me a Kobe steak lunch at the ANA Hotel in Kobe.
I’m still recovering from the online memorial I hosted for my friend David Wright. There were close to 20 attendees, a combination of friends, family, and colleagues from several continents. There were memories and stories exchanged, things moved forward without a snag, and it was all one could hope for. Of course, the gravity and sadness weighed heavy on us all, so saying it went “well” just doesn’t make sense. We miss him. Perhaps I’ll save my final words for the flight out. I still don’t know if I will be headed to Chicago or Querétaro yet.
As I write this, I’m juggling boxes and suitcases, organizing and tossing, ripping CDs (strict limit on discs - CD/DVD - that one can bring into Mexico). Like a life-size children’s puzzle, nothing can be set down without moving four or five other items first to make room for it. Outside, a good wind is throwing needle-like bits of snow and ice horizontally from the north. Routine medical attention back home becomes near-impossible because of COVID-19 restrictions.
For a final kick in the gut, all the goodbyes to friends and folks we leave behind here in Japan. Maintaining the belief that the COVID separations would be a temporary thing for as long as, or even longer than made sense. For so many, no final face-to-face. No goodbye parties. Just a masked plane ride up and out from a near-empty airport. I can already feel students’ memories of me fading, much quicker than expected. Maybe I can use COVID and online teaching as an excuse.
Hard now, but at the other end of the tunnel is a new chapter waiting to unfold. Climate, cars, new guitars, a new sound system, a new workspace. A new life.
December 31, 2021
The odometer clicked over another one yesterday.
Alison treated me to our traditional Kobe steak lunch, and we enjoyed the walk there and back on a brisk afternoon.
Spent the rest of the birthday with Jason Isbell - along with his and my own share of whisky. First, an hour-long conversation between him and George Saunders. Then, down the YouTube tunnel with my favorite songs of his: Elephant, Chaos and Clothes, If We Were Vampires, Flying Over Water, 24 Frames, Last of My Kind, Stockholm, and even a Tiny Desk concert.
Could have done a lot worse.
Anyway, goodbye and good riddance 2021.
December 5, 2021
I’m out of quarantine, and Alison is back from the US and about midway through hers.
All that fades, as I am still in shock from the passing of one of my best friends, David Wright, on Thanksgiving Day. I won’t say any more about that here, at least not yet.
In Osaka, starting to inch toward the real move preparation phase, including trying to wrestle with the frequently changing flight and shipping costs and restrictions. Japan to North America flights are super expensive, but flights from Chicago to Querétaro have gone way down in price. Shipping, of course, is insane. Makes it hard to plan on what to toss, ship, or carry and when…even where.
Of course, at this point Omicron is in the news and adds more levels of uncertainty, but, of course, everything will change again (and again) before I even get close to an airport again. These are our times.
News from the US is sadder and more embarrassing by the day…shootings, the threats to Roe v. Wade, the erosion of democracy by the wacko faction of the GOP. It is a relief not to be heading there to live, I have to say.
On a lighter note…I’ve lived here in Japan for over 30 years. There’s always more:
November 12, 2021
From COVID Quarantine
One week in, I have to say the two or three daily checks by the government have become quite irritating. Maybe that’s helping me forget the trip here. And that warm, fuzzy, two-hour plus welcome running the COVID maze at KIX.
My fourth set of flights back to Japan was NOT canceled (as were the first three), and the Finnair planes and service were very good. ($$$) Planes were far from full, the lounge in Helsinki was comfortable with full amenities, and the flight attendants were exceptional. A different kind of hospitality from the Japanese service I’m used to. Not better or worse, just a different flavor. Interesting.
Wait, you say, what’s this Helsinki business? Yes, getting back to Japan and landing in Osaka required me to fly ORD-JFK-HEL-KIX. This to avoid landing in Tokyo and having to quarantine in a hotel there for 14 days. I left Chicago on a Tuesday afternoon and walked in my door on a Thursday afternoon.
The quarantine is a farce, but adequate planning has made outlaw runs to the grocery store unnecessary so far. That will happen sooner rather than later, though, as I also need to get to a post office.
The trip itself was a great success. Chicago was fun and low-pressure, with great weather throughout. There was a bit of stress getting the timing of the required PCR test right, but it all worked out. And, of course, it’s always great catching up with my brother and old friends. Spent a lot of good time with Dave. And got to play my Telecaster, now with its tamed fret ends. Physical exam deems me healthier than I have reason to be.
The two weeks in Mexico were also very productive, if at a considerably higher stress level than the Chicago days. I’m not at liberty to say too much here, but let me know if you’re curious. Driving around an unfamiliar, crowded Mexico city in a largish SUV (Nissan Rogue) with conflicting navigation cues from Apple Maps and my human navigator…well, you can imagine. But we did deftly scale several hurdles and will have a lot to show for it soon.
Some highlights. The “big stores” in Querétaro offer selections that rival or exceed what I’m used to in Chicago. We saw zero federales loitering near the cash registers in any store were in; very different from previous trips. Drivers were more courteous and less aggressive than Chicago drivers. Food was great - though the only tamales I found were in one of those “big stores.” The weather was amazing.
Seven more days of quarantine.
September 26, 2021
Travel in the After Times
10:21 PM September 24, 2021
The Alison sendoff should have tipped me off. Actually, it did, but nothing could have prepared me for the strangeness of this trip.
When I saw her off, we were surprised by how few people were at the airport. No lines, airline staff seemingly hungry for human contact. She reported her planes were not full, but not really empty, either.
Hold that thought.
I spent a pretty rough three weeks after she left: the big ongoing condo empty, prepping the place for its 6-week closing, prepping for both my trip and the following two-week quarantine. Stress levels way up there.
I’d made a special trip to the airport to get my PCR test a day early, giving me a margin in case things didn’t work out.
I spent the night before departure in a hotel at the airport since my flight left at 7:10 the next morning. Tiny, but new, clean, and inexpensive. When I asked, I was told the Terminal Buildings opened at 5:30. OK.
5:30 am. Two others and I arrive just as the doors unlock. Otherwise, ghost town. Ah. The buildings OPEN at 5:30. OPERATION begins at 6. OK. That explains the emptiness.
At about 5:50 the JAL staff do their little ceremony to start the day, line up and silently bow to the waiting passengers, but there are no passengers. It's just me. Minutes later, a staff member comes over to where I’m sitting, inviting me to check in.
As with Alison’s check-in, the staff is delighted to have a customer, and conversation is casual and friendly. But when my negative PCR test results are reviewed, there is discussion. I’m told that while they will let me ON the plane, I may have a problem in Chicago. My passport number does not appear on the certificate, nor does any other ID info. Silently, I notice for the first time that my name is written only in Japanese characters, not Roman letters. Pretty sure I only need proof to get ON the plane, I assure them I will handle what comes in Chicago.
On the plane, about half-full, an odd seat assignment I won’t bother explaining, and we’re off to Haneda, one of two main Tokyo airports. From there, I need to take a 70-minute bus ride to Narita, the other airport.
There are some people here and there at Haneda. Shops are closed. Some vending machines are "on." If you want ice cream, you're covered. Bottle of water, sorry. Chu-hai? Those were the good old days, friend.
One of the old codgers (probably my age) managing the bus lines shoos me away from the stop where my bus will arrive because I’m too early. I move about 40 feet away, stand behind a remaining public telephone booth, and watch a crow across the way pick his way through the crow-proofing trash netting and create a proper crow mess.
At a “proper” time closer to my bus departure, I wheel my suitcase to the bus stop. An older female agent (again, about my age) checks my ticket, tells me where to wheel my bag, tells me where to stand. Because there is no line. It seems I will be her only passenger on this bus, so we start to talk…the usual…Kanto vs. Kansai, US vs. Japan, and then I throw her the Mexico curveball. Before the bus arrives I’m giving her a lesson on prepositions and transportation conveyances, and she’s taking notes.
I am the only person getting ON the bus.
The bus arrives at Narita, on time, and again, ghost town. There are no lines. I walk directly to the check-in counter and a row of faces do their best “choose me.” I make an “I’m sorry” face and go to the first class counter. I’m told I’m the only first-class passenger. We laugh about how I could have saved points and chosen business; only one passenger there, too. They repeat the warning I’d gotten in Osaka about my PCR test certificate.
Security, no line. But I do get patted down…by a female agent. Well.
Immigration. No line. The “traffic director” is disappointed that I already have my embarkation/disembarkation card, correctly filled out, depriving him of his chance to be officious. The immigration agent is…friendly. “It’s like this every day!” I thank her for working on a holiday.
My watch tells me that I have time for a fast Bloody Mary in the First Class lounge. Yeah, well…no. Food can be ordered by using the QR code on your table, but sorry, no alcohol. Emergency lockdown. I drink my glass of water, then head to my gate.
The departure gates are often among the less pleasant parts of a trip, and can be almost Fellini-esque, with characters from all corners of the globe just being themselves in this order-obsessed society. Usually 300-400 people, tired, just waiting, waiting. But the Twilight Zone vibe persists. The gate area is almost empty. I check my watch, my ticket, the gate number. I look around. I take a seat. I count heads.
At the gate, about eight JAL staff. In the passenger area, I count 10 plus myself, but it’s hard because there’s a Chinese family whose members are manically scurrying in and out of the area.
Boarding for Group One is announced, without irony. I board and find my seat, 1A.
Another headcount, I get 11+1. You can almost hear the money hemorrhaging from the plane. This plane is designed to carry 300-400 people. And I’m paying with miles. From the looks of him, so is the one guy in Business.
So many attendants come up and introduce themselves I can’t remember how many, let alone any of their names. Fortunately, one also brings the champagne.
Take-off is a little odd. Very lumpy runway (and maybe I remember that), but also an odd fish-like shimmy in the plane as it gains speed. Whatever, we’re in the air. I have champagne, great earphones, and 13 hours between cultures to zen out. I’m drained, hungry.
The food comes early. I’ve chosen the Japanese full meal - a mistake. Oh, it was exquisite: delicious and beautifully presented. But, the food just kept coming. My request to pass on the last course was duly ignored, but I did manage to stave off the dessert, and pleaded with the attendant to eat it herself instead.
Next, across the aisle in the adjacent pod, they are preparing my bed. For the mattress, do you prefer hard or soft? Do you wish to change into “relax clothes” (provided)? I defer on the clothes, but in the interest of being a good sport - and the enormous meal - I concede to a little lie-down.
And I do doze off.
Until the turbulence.
Now, I call it turbulence, but as experienced fliers know, turbulence is random. With varying severity, it will pitch the plane vertically, laterally, rotationally. What was occurring now was something I had already experienced at least once since the plane left Tokyo, plus during the odd take-off. The plane was shimmying, an almost 100% horizontal, fish-like shimmy. Like a 500,000 lb. guppy. The shimmy periods could last 3-4 minutes, or on and off for up to 40 minutes. These shimmies were strong, or maybe they felt so because I was horizontal myself. Lying on my back, the shimmies were strong enough to cause that great big meal to heave left and right out of sync with the rest of me. Back to my pod and a little reading. (As usual, the wifi was mostly no-fi, but that's less of an irritant when there’s no extra charge for it. It got better over Canada.)
But those shimmy periods persisted throughout the trip. People who should know have suggested it might have been an odd interaction between the tailwind and autopilot, but my theory of a worn or damaged damping mechanism was not ruled out. Owners of old VW Beetles whose steering dampers were dying know what I mean.
We approach Chicago, and there are goodbyes, and gifts. Exiting the plane the attendants from Economy want to meet. The fact that I speak Japanese seems to earn me some mysterious plane status, but my Japanese is truly awful and many, many, many foreigners in Japan put me to shame. But, on request, I give them some Kansai-ben (Osaka dialect) and they are tickled.
O’Hare. The gates get farther from Immigration every flight. Next time in, I’m measuring. Think it’s at least a half-mile now. But, true to pattern, Immigration is empty. It’s the twelve of us. No line, welcome home. As I approach the baggage carousel, one of the handlers is placing my suitcase on the ground in front of me.
I won’t make you read any more. I got a nice silver Ford Focus as my rental. A week of meeting friends and doctors followed.
American Airlines canceled the second leg of my return to Japan - actually a JAL flight. There is no availability on planes originating in the US and landing in Osaka (their wording). “So, what do you suggest?” <silence> I should add that it took FOUR HOURS on the phone - mostly on hold - to get that news. I did manage to find a United flight that almost mirrors my original plan - ORD-SFO-KIX - and grabbed it despite a crazy fare and a no-cancellation policy. And United. Ah, well.
No matter, as those United flights were canceled within 30 hours of purchase. The Travelocity agent was happy that I could get a 100% refund…
While I was still in online chat with the agent, I managed to find other flights that will get me to KIX while avoiding Tokyo (quarantine details). It’s an extra connection (Seoul) and a combination of United and Asiana flights. It arrives a day later and causes all kinds of other logistical problems (PCR test, mail delivery, etc.) Fingers crossed none of those flights get canceled.
August 21, 2021
I’ve been putting off updates because each time I start, it soon devolves to a litany of negatives. That hasn’t changed.
We’ve got the collapse of Afghanistan, record-high COVID-19 numbers in Japan, the US, and most of the rest of the world. Hospitals are full. Performative irrationality of the anti-mask/anti-vax simples continues.
There are climate change related meteorological catastrophes…hurricanes, mudslides and landslides, forest fires…119°F in Sicily, Lake Meade is almost dry.
And when indulging in a little louder than usual listening to Dave Matthews, POP, one of my favorite pairs of headphones died: right channel silence. Out of warranty. I did manage to negotiate a heavily discounted replacement with the maker, but who would have thought it would take a full day to find a way to ship them from Japan to Hong Kong?
The bedroom headboard lamp is disintegrating…crumbling to the touch. The small fan in the office where I spend lots of my time has gotten so loud I can’t bear to turn it on.
Japan’s re-entry procedures have gotten even crazier, and with the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, pre-flight testing and quarantine on arrival are becoming even more of a challenge.
Got the picture?
It’s all just too sad.
July 31, 2021
Two Moderna jabs plus two weeks, so all should be cool, but all that’s just in time for the rise of the Delta variant, its transmissibility, its virulence, and the ill-timed decisions by leaders to “open up.” In Japan, that’s forced many areas, including Tokyo and Osaka, to return to emergency lockdown. What this will mean for fall travel plans is anyone’s guess.
It’s not all bleak, though. The commission to study the January 6 attack is underway, Trump is being forced to release his taxes, and a memo from Trump to Justice Department officials that in other times would guarantee prison time has been made public. I’ve fallen in love again with my Shure SE846 earphones (if not the awful Shure Bluetooth cable), but I’m not leaving my Grado GH-1s or my Anandas, either. Son Volt has a new album out, but I want 60 seconds in the ring with the audio engineer. And, it’s an Apple Digital Master, no less. It sounds like shit vinyl. The new Jackson Browne (Downhill From Everywhere) is a little better.
Colleagues and former students are struggling to survive the last weeks of the semester, and I certainly feel for them, but I can’t help but enjoy the remove from the hardship.
A real find was the Rickie Lee Jones’ autobiography, Last Chance Texaco. While some of the stories are not easy to get through, the writing itself is a nice surprise. The woman can write. Almost a direct contemporary, it’s interesting to read her account of her formative years, see the difference gender, geography, and fearlessness can make.
For now, it’s just endure, endure the Kansai summer. Everything else subsides. It’s just the heat and humidity. Here’s hoping it’s the last time for me.
June 26, 2021
In 2020, COVID-19 arguably caught most countries off-guard. (Yes, they should have a, b, c, …) Eventually most wised up, those that could got on track (many countries just couldn’t), and are now starting to enjoy a semi-opened up summer.
The second year of the pandemic has given not only the Universities, not only those involved with the Olympics, but the entire governing machine the opportunity to display their utter incompetence.
Last year wasn’t so bad. As leadership was paralyzed staring into the headlights, the people, the teachers, did what had to be done. Small businesses were hit very hard, of course, but, overall things went much better than could be expected. With a year to gear up for 2021, the universities, the Olympics committees, and the government are now showing us what they are best at: mucking it up.
I feel for the students and teachers having to cope with all the top-down craziness in the constant shifting from on-demand, real-time, face-to-face, hybrid, and high-flex classes. Just awful.
Alison received her first shot this week. For about three weeks things were going full speed, with needles and vaccine everywhere. Yesterday, we were told that the government was “having trouble delivering” vaccine to the many vaccines nation sites and that reservations for vaccination were being suspended.
The Olympics are less than a month away. Tokyo daily infection rates are 600+, and a fourth wave of infection is expected. More and more athletes expecting to compete are being tested positive for COVID-19 either on departure for or on arrival in Japan. <LOOK>
I will get my second shot on July 13. We assume. Yet, so far, there has been no adjustment made in Japan’s departure/re-entry policies to accommodate travelers. This is especially important for non-Japanese because they/we are subject to more severe re-entry restrictions, including a two-week quarantine, vaccination be damned.
OTHERWISE…all is good. It’s still not too hot or humid, though some days hint at what’s to come. The next six or seventh months seem to be coming into focus, but that might just be a mirage, as we know.
That’s about it. If you’re a student, check out the student counterpart to this site <http://tonysensei.net> and if you’re a teacher, be sure to take a look (and listen) to this <http://twoteacherstalking.com>.
Stay cool, stay safe, stay healthy.
June 16, 2021 - Shot #1
I’ve gotten my first vaccination. Though I had to travel an hour to the vaccination site (INTEX Osaka), the proceedings were well-organized and efficient. I arrived 20 minutes early, but was admitted without delay, and an hour later I was on my way home. I was amused to observe that on the train home, all six people seated around me were enjoying drinks/cocktails of one kind or another. A result of bar/restaurant closings and restrictions, I guess. (No, alcohol does not interfere with the vaccine - Moderna, in my case.)
Sadly, the vaccination doesn’t seem to make any difference regarding departure from or re-entry to Japan. Non-Japanese entering or returning to Japan are subject to an extreme quarantine protocol that makes re-entry impractical.
Everything you need to know about quarantining in Japan http://bit.ly/j-re-entry
I don’t know what more I can say.
May 27, 2021 - The 2021 Entropic Games
It’s all just a slow entropic slide here.
The IOC keeps insisting the Olympics will go on. 83% of the people here are opposed to going on with the Olympics. An executive of Toyota, one, if not key sponsor pdf the Olympics publicly expressed reservations about holding the games during the emergency. That’s strong for this culture. More, The Asahi (major Japanese newspaper) published its recommendation that the games be canceled. OK, then. Next?
Of course, the vaccination progress is slow. Very, very slow. Now it seems my age group will be lucky to get jabbed before the end of July. Not directly related, travel in and out of Japan is becoming even more difficult. Not really related, since Japan seems to make no distinction between those who have been vaccinated and those who haven’t. Either way, if you’re a foreigner, it’s weeks of quarantine on your return. You read that right: if you’re a foreigner. Then, there are friends and acquaintances warning me to make sure I get information “on both sides” before getting vaccinated. (Not only from US, BTW.) Like getting on a motorcycle with or without a helmet, I guess.
All that is getting to me.
Trying to wean myself from the shopping therapy that would sometimes help at times like these. Passed on the JDS Atom amplifier and Atom+ DAC, and even on a new space gray Magic Mouse. (For now, Hahaha.) Didn’t even look at a pair of headphones. One thing I do look forward to is someday actually getting my real wheels.
For the time being, it’s just dream and wait.
May 8, 2021 - Easy Spring
Things here inside in Nakanocho are as peaceful and orderly as things are chaotic and entropic outside: IOC and LDP in the Olympic death spiral, the GOP hell-bent on destroying US democracy, Israel (& maybe Hamas) in the eastern Mediterranean, Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination debacle, etc.
Online meeting software. Had occasion to use Skype this week for a good discussion with the Rita Men, my buds from high school. What a painful experience. I can’t justify Zoom’s $150/year buy-in for the little I use it this year. A year ago, when I knew I’d be using it for most, if not all of my classes, it was a no-brainer. I’ve been trying to wrangle a senior/educator discount out of them, but that’s a story of its own. All of us agreed that the Zoom imposed half-time (40 min. limit) was better than the awfulness of Skype.
A rainy morning morphed into a beautiful late spring day here with blue skies and plenty of sunshine. After taming the podcast RSS feed to Apple’s changing requirements (often in contradiction to its own published best practices), I rewarded myself with an afternoon cocktail and the next few audiobook chapters of the Keith Richards autobiography. Balancing my blood pressure with the many grains of salt, but a good listen nevertheless.
May 3, 2021 - It’s Golden Week
The COVID-19 Vaccine Show continues here in Japan, and the Suga administration is going full bore to get to the 2% vaccination point. 🍿 We received word yesterday that the first of our acquaintances here in Japan has an appointment for his first vaccination on May 19. I haven’t received even the notification that I’ll get an appointment someday.
Golden Week is here, so lots of folks are enjoying a few days off. We’ll see what kinds of hoops the universities will fabricate for my teaching friends to jump through once classes resume. Until then, it’ll be a little McD in the park today and a virtual happy hour scheduled for what is predicted to be a rainy Wednesday.
On a sadder note, long time Kyoto man about town, Gordon MacClaren has left us. A long and somber Zoom wake was held on Monday evening. Many wonderful stories shared. His passing is a true loss.
Also, a reminder, especially for those who teach, we’re still cranking out the Two Teachers Talking podcast. The first episode dropped in 2012. We’ve learned a lot since then (about teaching and podcasting!) and we share whatever learn. If you do listen, please give us some feedback and leave a review on Apple Podcasts. http://twoteacherstalking.com
It’s a glorious 10/10 weather today here in Osaka, and I fell asleep in the sun on the terrace about 5 minutes into the podcast I was listening to. Now it’s catch-up time before I have to make meatballs for dinner later.
Stay healthy and safe everybody.
April 24, 2021 - なんでこれ？(WTF?)
Japan’s government, the IOC, and the universities are providing a quite amazing spectacle as they take denial to new levels with their handling of the COVID-19 crisis. I wonder if, when they do eventually cancel the Olympics, the reported numbers of cases will suddenly increase, as they did last year when the postponement was announced. Maybe then the universities will be freed by MEXT to shift to remote classes, too.
Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated. No real explanation is offered beyond “time was required to approve the vaccines” and “foreign manufacturers something something.”
So, our own plans are left on hold, not only for the Mexico landing, but also things like routine medical checkups, license renewals, familial assistance, etc. Not to mention gyros, hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches.
April 10, 2021 - Rites of Spring
April is here, the cherry blossoms have mostly floated down to their demise, and a new school year begins. Without me.
That’s just fine.
A few schools are having some startup glitches. (As Charles and I predicted, E135: http://twoteacherstalking.com). Concurrent with a strong and irrational push to lure students and teachers into classrooms, COVID-19 case numbers have skyrocketed, and some schools have needed to go to a Plan B after just a day or two of classes. No one other than SOME medical workers her have been vaccinated, infection numbers are near all-time highs, and the virus has mutated into several more contagious and virulent forms. Why is ANYONE traveling to sit in a classroom? Olympics? ¥?
But the weather is wonderful, and walks out to the nearby river (Ogawa) and adjacent park areas are very pleasant…especially with primo earphones and a couple of chu-hai. (Some of my grammar has been assaulted, but I wrote most of this long ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chūhai) Being a Chicago native, the memories of those first warm days (+40°F) breaking the winter hell are forever etched in the brain, a euphoric release and a tsunami of hope for the spring and summer ahead.
And more. This has become a special time of year for me, marking the anniversary of my arrival (2nd time) in Japan (4/18/91) and the beginning of a new school year. It is also the time of year, when, in 1989, I returned to Chicago after my first year in Japan, and buffeted by the first waves of reverse culture shock, sought solace in the one place I knew I could find it, the shores of Lake Michigan. I sat there on what was then the Planetarium peninsula, enjoyed the Chicago skyline, and contemplated my future.
At that point, I was feeling as if I had been yanked out of Japan just as I was getting into the groove of it all. I remember sitting on the JAL plane taxiing on the Itami runway away from the terminal. I was listening to saccharine J-pop (Yumi Matsutoya, Izumi Tachibana) on a Sony Walkman, wondering what I was doing, how life would unfold. Never understood, even then, that it was up to me.
Here, today, back in Japan, it has become my practice to take advantage of one of the good weather April days, grab a bento and a few beers or chu-hai, and head to some nearby spot conducive to contemplation. In Nishinomiya, it was Omaehama (Omaehama Beach), in Asashiobashi it was Osaka-ko (Osaka Port). This week, here in Miyakojima, it was the Ogawa (Oh River). No school year beginning for me anymore, but certainly a new chapter unfolding, and plenty to think about. Like every year, it’s nice to sit back, take stock, and appreciate all that I have to be grateful for.
A fine ritual.
April 3, 2021 - No turning back. Hammer down.
Mile markers just whizzing past the windows and I’m not lifting.
Enjoyed a LUNCH IN A RESTAURANT last week, treated by Alison and her very generous dad. (Thanks, Lee!) It was outdoors, on the restaurant’s terrace, only one other couple out there, far away, though we were on elevators going up and down. That was five days ago. The event? Celebrating one day early the expiration of my teaching contracts (3/31). No foolin’. I’m retired.
Saw this sad/inspiring article about how the pandemic may (or may not) be affecting young people’s thinking about teaching careers.:
- As Pandemic Upends Teaching, Fewer Students Want to Pursue It: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/27/us/covid-school-teaching.html Ms. Ízunza Barba said she realized then that there was no other career path that could prove as meaningful. “Seeing her make her students laugh made me realize how much a teacher can impact someone’s day,” she said. “I was like, whoa, that’s something I want to do.”
Otherwise, the usual household chores, less usual tech irritants, and what I have to come to call “sharpening knives”: sorting out the writing applications I will use from here on in to get my words onto disk. Harder than you’d think.
Also had a nice lunch with friend and podcast partner Charles (ごちそうさまでした, Charles) after a headphone listening extravaganza at one of Osaka’s headphone emporia. (I’m going to miss those.) Yes, there is an audible difference between $4K headphones and $3.5K headphones. I didn’t buy anything. Feel free to hit me up if you want/need audio advice.
Touched base with the X1/9 Club friends, planning the next Rita Men online gathering. Meeting occasionally with students from last year who want to talk. Brother Dave doing well back in Chicago, though he hasn’t gotten his shots yet. On that front, stuck in Japan, we’re screwed. (USA ~30%, Japan 0.69%) https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations
Rowing, weights, walking, reading, guitar, the chores mentioned above, but mostly waiting for a project to step forward and volunteer for attention.
March 24, 2021 - From Zoom Room to real life
Yesterday I visited one of the universities where I have been teaching to clear out things from the office. Alison was with me, the weather was great, so we stopped for a fast snack and drink in one of the campus’s greener areas.
In a bit of true serendipity, I locked eyes with a young man from about 60 feet away in a shock of recognition. Yes, it was one of my students from last year, someone that, until that moment, I had only interacted with online: email, Zoom, etc. In a true anomaly, he bounds across the lawn and shouts, “Tony!”
(NOTE: Students often, especially in this university’s culture, will avoid eye contact with a teacher outside of class if at all possible. Nice, huh? Of course, at some of the other schools, the smiles and hugs make up for it.)
We had a brief, but very warm talk about the break, next year, etc. He was nice enough to thank me for the last year, express regret that I wouldn’t be teaching him next year, and apologize for his English. It’s true, Ryo was not a scholar, but he was always gung ho, was never intimidated by mistakes, and never afraid to ask for help. He’s the ONLY student from last year that I’ve met in real life, and I’m very happy it was him. Gambatte, Ryo!
March 15, 2021 - DST, COVID-19, No shots for you
Folks back home switching to Daylight Saving Time this weekend. The only thing worse than dealing with Daylight Saving Time is living without it. Imagine June 21, longest day of the year, 7:30 pm, and it’s dark. No joke, there must be a connection to the suicide rate. Oh, and did you consider that on that day, sunrise in Osaka is at 4:45 am?
This would also be the time each year that I’d be packing up in Chicago, getting ready for my return to Japan. While they had some nice spring weather last week, another major storm is on its way to the midwest, and don’t miss that, though it’s one of those things you just learn to live with. It has been hard not being back there for more than a year.
In 2020, I just made it back to Japan before everything started getting shut down. I managed a last dinner out with friends Bill and Sue, but things were already changing. We weren’t even sure what risks we were or weren’t taking. Things haven’t been the same since. The normally packed plane back was only about 50% full, and most of us were maskless - none were available.
It’s been hard on the adults, but unquestionably harder on the kids, maybe even on the ones too young to know how weird their world has become. CNN has a good piece on it.
Big picture, I have very little to complain about.
But I will anyway. Japan has dropped the ball with vaccinations and keeps fumbling trying to recover. Embarrassing, really, but the personal reaction is outrage. Not a joke:
"The populous Tokyo, Osaka, and Kanagawa prefectures will receive enough vaccines for around 2,000 people, with others scheduled for 1,000 people in the first batch." https://japantoday.com/category/national/vaccinations-for-elderly-to-begin-in-populous-areas-in-limited-supply?
USA? As of today, 2,000,000 shots per day. (No typos in this or preceding paragraph.)
Ah, well. Like I said, in the big picture, pretty damn lucky.
March 10, 2021 - A return to Kyoto
One day flows into the next.
Finished a book I’d begun long before classes ended. A re-read, actually. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters (細雪). Different than I’d remembered, more quirky, with the sisters coming off much less appealing than before. I guess after so long here, I see more.
Also, enjoyed a rare out-of-home experience: a trip to Kyoto. We started northwest, at Ginkaku-ji (銀閣寺), headed a bit south to the Hōnen-in 法然院 . A big bonus is that the cemetery next door is home to the memorial stone for the above-mentioned Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Westward to a cluster of previously unknown temples, then south to a spot with special memories for both Alison and I: the bridge over Shijo with its excellent view of the northern hills of Kyoto. Stopped for dinner at the Cafe Kiev, a favorite Russian restaurant of Alison’s. I think it’s only the third time I’ve eaten at a restaurant in the last twelve months.
Vaccination seems to be going well in the US, though it also seems many are moving too quickly to “open up.” Stupid. And tragic if it botches chances for a sure recovery that could be so close. Japan is not doing so well, as prospects for the shots and chances for international travel in and out of Japan get pushed farther and farther into the future.
March 5, 2021 - Sturgeon’s Law / The Dan of Steel
Long ago in a land far away, I had a “discussion” with a lady friend regarding our existence in this vale of tears. I held that 90% of “stuff” was crap. She disagreed. I didn’t know then that it was a thing. Sturgeon’s Law: https://effectiviology.com/sturgeons-law/
On the other hand, if this is what retirement is going to be like, oh, man: https://youtu.be/vjRisxOHAE4 In the other 10%, no spoilers.
Happy birthday, Chicago.
February 19, 2021 - I made it
My last scheduled class (can’t get too technical on that!) ended at 4:55 pm, February 10, 2021. Now, I am a former teacher. Retired. De-professionalized.
Yes, it has been a long, strange trip. “Oh, wow,” is a bit premature.
So, transitions aplenty ahead, complicated by additional navigational difficulties posed by the COVID-19 plague. What most people don’t know is that this retirement is already a year behind schedule. I expected the previous year (2019-2020) to be my last full year of teaching, with much of 2020 spent scoping out and preparing the way for our move to Mexico. Miraculously, I didn’t lose work, and the benefit of the extra year’s salary outweighed the advantages of an early departure. In the other 10%, no spoilers.
Of course, I considered the possibility of soldiering on for yet another year, or maybe just one more semester, but somehow, I knew it was time.
I have zero regrets having hung on for this last, bizarre year of remote teaching, though. I learned much from a great crop of students, and enjoyed learning the tech involved in teaching from home. I thank my students for making it a great, if crazy, experience. We accepted each other, trusted each other, and leaned on each other, just as it should be. Not a bad last year in any way. Thanks, guys.
But. A new adventure beckons. A new chapter begins. I’m stuck in Japan for a while longer, but what’s so bad about that? No work, free to savor the last sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of this place that pulled so hard at me 35 years ago and insisted I make it my home.
Then, vamos a México. After a million hurdles getting out of Japan and into Mexico, that is. It’s OK. It will happen. It will be good.
Entries from years past