Sunday, July 9, 2017

Language Barrier

When you are a visitor in a foreign land you expect some language difficulty but in many parts of the world you can at least read the letters and try to figure it out.  In Japan their letters look like lines  and squiggles.  Very cool lines and squiggles but lines and squiggles nonetheless.  

When we landed in Japan we spoke exactly twelve words of Japanese and ten of those were the numbers 1-10.    Thanks Hwang's Martial Arts Judo classes for preparing us with numbers 1-10!   We could read exactly zero words!   Luckily for us, Japan seems to really cater to foreigners.  Almost every important sign is written in Japanese and in English!  For awhile I had Jax convinced I could read Japanese before Emma informed him that the signs also had English words on them. Thanks for spoiling my fun kiddo!  All of the train announcements are also in English too which made things really easy.

One of the funniest language barrier conversations that we had was with sweet Japanese girl working at Disneyland.   She commented on our shirts and tried to make small talk. Our foreignness clearly stuck out like sore thumbs.  It could have been my blonde haired, blue eyed daughter, or my Goliath sized bald husband, or the fact that when anyone spoke to us we all looked confused.  She asked where we were from.  My mother-in-law responded to the girl's question with "Ohio".  The girl stopped midsentence, gave us a small bow, and said "Oh, Good Morning, How are you?"     Now this was a little odd because we had been having a conversation with her in broken English so a "good morning" right in the middle didn't really fit.  She then asked again where we were from and my mother-in-law again responded with "Ohio".  The girl looked puzzled but again said "Good morning".  Finally, my brother-in-law realized what was happening and intervened.  It turns out that state of  "Ohio" sounds exactly like the Japanes word "Ohayo" which means "Good Morning".   After  Mike explained that to all of us we seemed much less crazy to this poor girl.    We also tried to explain to the young girl that we were from Kentucky.  She had never heard of Kentucky so Fred asked her if she'd heard of KFC.  There are KFC's all over Japan so she knew what KFC was.  Fred said we were from there.   No one bothered to clarify this so this poor girl probably thinks we are from a chicken restaurant in the US (and not even a good chicken restaurant).

Another interesting place to not speak or read the language is a restaurant.  If we had not had Mike with us we would have starved. If the restaurant doesn't have an English menu then you are left to chance ordering by picture.  Totally risky if you're not an adventurous eater, you're picky, or have a food allergy.  Japanese restaurants all have displays of their typical dishes out front. It makes everything either look really good or the half a squid on the place totally scares you off.   Again, eating in Japan is just odd if you don't speak the language.

In the end we learned the the major phrases.  Excuse me, thank you, I'm sorry, good morning and good afternoon.   Enough to get us by or at least get someone's attention to ask for help!  We even used our knowledge of the numbers 1-10 while at Disney.  There were roku people in our group.  The Japanese people are so friendly and willing to help that it made the language barrier way less stressful!  Oh and my brother-in-law speaks some Japanese so he kept us alive and kept us from embarrassing ourselves.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Morning Commute

You've probably heard that Tokyo Japan is one of the most populous cities in the world.   That is really a hard concept to imagine, that is until you board a morning commuter train into the city.   If you live in New York, Chicago, or Atlanta you might think you've seen a lot of commuters but I promise you that you haven't seen anything like a Tokyo train or the Tokyo train station.

One thing that Jax wanted to do while in Japan was take a train. His Uncle Mikey was happy to make that happen.   We took our first train to dinner one night. Let's call it a test run.  Mike helped us dumb Americans figure out how to purchase train tickets and navigate the train station.   Seriously, we were like herding cats through the station and getting us on the right train.   It was late evening when we took that first train so it really wasn't super crowded and we only went like two stops.   We made it to dinner and back and no one was harmed or left behind.  Success!

Mike might have been over confident about our train taking ability because he decided that we should take the train to Tokyo Disneyland the next day. It was a two hour train ride or a two hour car ride so our options were limited.    This would be a major test for the dumb American train novices.  This trip would involve an hour and twenty minute train ride from the train station nearest to Mike's  house into the heart of Tokyo and then a train change for another thirty minute train trip to the Disney station.  Oh and for added fun we were going to do this during the height of morning rush hour.  

Mike helped us purchase train cards so that we could load our money for train fares onto it for easier commuting.   We made the mistake of not purchasing cards for the kids because we (Mike included), thought  we could use our cards to pay for the kids.  Apparently the card can only be swiped once for one person to board the train.  This fact will come in handy later.

When we boarded our train it was standing room only so we got the typical Japanese commuter experience. Poor Fred was the largest guy on the train and at least a head taller than everyone! The train was filled with students in school uniforms and Japanese workers all in their work attire. On a side note: I will say that the majority of Japanese are better dressers than most Americans when it comes to work. Most men wear black or blue slacks with a well fitted white or light blue dress shirt.   Women all dress very conservatively with long shirts, a nice blouse, and conservative shoes.  All in very muted colors like khakis, black or navy.  It's almost like the work day uniform.

The trains in Japan are strangely quiet.  No one talks and if they do it's almost in whispers. Many people spend their train ride looking at their phone or catching a nap.  There are signs and announcements asking that all phones be silenced and that you refrain from talking on the phone.  It's a rule that no one breaks. You can imagine how well the loud Americans with little Rosebushes went over on a quiet train!  One other observation that I made while on the train is how orderly they seem to be. You would expect that a train stuffed with 400 people would be semi-chaotic but everyone rushes on and off in a very orderly fashion.  In the stations people quietly and politely stand in line waiting for the train.   People are in a hurry but not so much that they would willingly be rude to each other.  It was a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the USA.   Train cleanliness was also astounding.  The trains in Japan are so very clean unlike America where most trains smell mildly of urine or vomit at all times. There is no trash or graffiti on the trains either. The Japanese wouldn't dare leave trash on the train it's just part of their culture.

Our first train ride was long so we quickly learned as people got off and freed up seats that we needed to move quickly to grab one.  After about the fifth stop we were all able to snag a seat for the remainder of the ride.  When the train finally arrived in the Tokyo station we immediately started our trek from one train to the other.  We had fifteen minutes to travel about half a mile through one of the busiest mazes that you can imagine.  The train station is wall to wall people moving in all directions.  Again, all moving in an orderly fashion as quickly as possible to their destination.   There are also very specific train station rules that are unwritten but ALWAYS followed.  For example, on the escalators if you are going to stand you stand on the left in a single file line so that people who wish to walk may make walk quickly on the right. Stairs and moving sidewalks are the same way; if you're slow keep left.  Traversing the train station with two small children is extra special because at one point we were practically dragging them along.  We were practically running and following Mike to the next train but we made it.  The second train to Disney was significantly less crowded so we were able to sit comfortably on that one.

We made it to the station next to Disney and exited the train. We proceeded to the station exit and Fred scanned his card and sent Emma through the turnstile, then he scanned it again for himself.  The little gates closed indicating there was an issue with money or the card.  So Emma, who is outside the station and Fred who is inside the station had to go to the window and figure out what was up.  I was able to exit just fine and so was Fred's Mom so we waited while Mike, Fred, and the kids sorted out the train fare.  Remember when I said the cards we bought could only be used by one person, this is where we found that out.  In an effort to make the dumb Americans feel less dumb the train station employee let the kids go through without a ticket.   Yep, my kids freeloaded all the way to Disney.  I'm sure that's against the law.

At the end of the day we repeated the scenario in reverse back to Mike's home, except we paid for the kids this time!  They kids also passed out on the train on the way back because Disney is tiring!   The next day we did it all again but this time Fred and I managed to buy our own tickets and load our card without Mike's assistance!  We even bought the kids tickets correctly!  We were practically Japanese at this point!   We knew our stops and what train line to take without Mike's help as well.  I was so impressed with our train taking new knowledge.      In a truly expert train taker move, when we boarded our long train home at the end of the night Mike used his butt as a blocker to score six seats for us all to sit down together.  This is a feat greater than a miracle and only one Japanese man was almost sat on during this process. 

In the end we all survived the trains in Tokyo but I'm not sure that we are cut out for Tokyo mass transit.  I'm also not sure that Tokyo mass transit could handle the little Rosebushes on a regular basis. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Doing your business

There are so many great things I could write about our trip to Japan but today I'm going to focus on toilets. Yep, you read that right, this whole entry is about toilets!   Arguably, Japan has the greatest toilets in the entire world. It's really one of the things that I will miss the most about being on the other side of the world. 

Like most children, as soon as we stepped off of the plane from our glorious 13 hour flight, Emma needed to use the bathroom.  We located the nearest bathroom and Emma rushed into the stall. I heard her yell, " MOM!  You've got to see this toilet!"  The Japanese lady in the bathroom started laughing and asked if she had ever been to Japan.  I responded with a laugh and an obvious no.  Emma continued to go on and on from behind the stall door about how many buttons this toilet had.  Finally it was my turn to go.  I entered the stall and this is what awaited me. 
You see, this sucker has an entire control panel!  It really is overwhelming at first.  There are options for everything!  This particular model isn't even one of the fancy ones.  During our time in Japan I encountered toilets with lots of options.  Almost every toilet had a "privacy" option which means your toilet makes rainforest type sounds to cover up any sounds that your bum make when you're doing your business.  There were bidet options for both your backside and your lady bits.  You could also control the flow at which the bidet squirted your parts.  The fancy toilets had a drying option that would blow you bits dry after some bidet action.  The really fancy toilets has a heated seat feature, not really necessary in the summer but cool nonetheless.  Now,  I remind you that these are PUBLIC toilets so everyone gets to enjoy all the cool features.  Sometimes the toilets even had a futuristic control panel on the wall to display all of their glorious options and in case you were overwhelmed, they had instructions which were in both Japanese and English! 
Going to the bathroom in Japan was a good time in and of itself but going to the bathroom with your 5 year old son in tow is extra special!  Most of the time the women's bathroom is cleaner than the men's so my littlest Rosebush likes to tag along with me.  I usually let him do his business and then wait while I do mine.  Little Rosebush poops a lot,  like 3 times a day.  TMI, I know but hey, you're already reading a blog about toilets so what the heck.  He sat down to do his business and like every curious little boy he started pushing toilet buttons.  He squirted himself in the butt and squealed with fright.  "What the heck?  The toilet just squirted water on my butt!"   I explained to him that was a feature that some people like and he said that he absolutely did not.    He finished his business and then it was my turn.  As I used the bathroom my little guy pushed every button on the wall.  I got squirted in all the unmentionables while my little guy just laughed.  Good times! 

We got used to the fancy pants toilets in most public bathrooms but occasionally, you would run into a bathroom that was a little old school to say the least. 
This my friends is called a squat toilet.  It's basically exactly what it look like, a porcelain hole on the floor that you are expected to pee (or even worse) into.  Now, I wasn't particularly excited about this idea but it drove Emma to tears.  She was so freaked out by this that she actually cried.  She was so nervous about peeing on her pants.  Apparently my kid is a city girl who has never peed in the woods!  It took about 10 minutes of coaching and a demonstration to convince her that she could do it.    After a mild anxiety attack she finally used the bathroom and no pants or shoes were harmed.  Thank goodness she just had to pee!  Squatty Potties  as I called them were really not my favorite because lets face it, I don't like to be any closer to a public bathroom floor than is absolutely necessary.  Emma wanted to experience Japanese culture while we were in Japan and it doesn't get more Japanese than this! 
It's a little disappointing to come back to the USA and the fanciest toilet we have is one that flushes itself.   Farewell Japanese toilets, until we meet again! 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I've decided to do a quick blog series about our international adventure.  If you know my family you know that it will be packed with chaos and hilarity.

My kids are pretty much professional travelers.  They have the security process down at the airport better than most adults.  They know how to board a plane, find their seats, shove their bags under the seat, and buckle in.  They typically do pretty well with entertaining themselves for the duration of the flight.  It's really like second nature for them.

Despite their professional status, absolutely nothing can prepare you or your children for the kind of torture that 13 hours on a metal tube cruising through the sky.  We have a habit of measuring time in Scooby Doo episodes.  It helps the kids get a better idea of just how long something is.  Until this trip Emma's longest plane trip was eight Scooby's or 4 hours.  Jaxon's was only about four Scooby's.  It was inconceivable to the kids that our flight to Tokyo was an astounding twenty-six Scooby's.  

We tried to prep them as best we could for the long haul flight but if you know the little Rosebushes you know that still and quiet is something they don't do very well.  In fact many people called me completely insane for even attempting this flight with kids!  I was petrified of what would happen when a mid-flight  meltdown occured. I did everything I could think of to prep them.  I let them pack their own carry on bags.  I bought some new plane friendly games and toys specifically for the trip.  I added some new games to their iPads in the hopes that something new and fresh would keep their attention.  I knew the airplane would have seat back entertainment so they could watch movies.  I also brought some melatonin just in case the kids or myself needed a little help taking a nap.

We boarded our plane at 12:25 in the afternoon and I was the lucky one that got to sit between both my kids in the very back row, in the middle section of a 777.    Fred and his mother were crammed next to each other, next to the window, and an extremely large man just across the aisle.  After seeing the aforementioned very large man, I was sort of thankful to be stuck with the kids.  The kids settled into their seats and immediately started playing with the seatback entertainment.  There was a large selection of movies for them to watch and even games to play.  Crisis #1 occured before we even left the gate when Jaxon's screen froze.  Luckily it was only temporary and after all the preflight announcements it came back to life.  As soon as we were in the air Jax needed to pee!  He is obsessed with airplane bathrooms so I totally expected 47 bathroom breaks during the 13 airborne hours. Lucky for us, our last row seats put us next to the bathrooms because my guesstimate was pretty accurate.

I had the forethought to request special children's meals for the kids when I booked the tickets.  This was the best decision I have ever made.  The kids meals turned out to be things my very picky children would actually eat.  The first meal was a hot dog, the snack was a ham sandwich, and breakfast before landing was pancakes.   Honestly, I was slightly jealous of the pancakes.     I was worried the kids wouldn't eat airplane food but thankfully this was a non-issue.  

I had hoped the kids would sleep some on the plane but no luck.  Emma slept maybe five minutes and Jax finally dozed off about an hour from Tokyo.  In their defense, this was the most turbulent flight I've ever been on.  We bounced around a lot for most of the flight.  Even the flight attendants seemed thrown off by the constant turbulence.  Every time I'd settle in to close my eyes my head would bounce off the seat.  I will say that the flight crew and flight attendants on this flight were very amazing given how rough the flight was, it can't be easy to do these long haul flights.

I did manage to watch four movies on the flight which is probably the most movies I've seen all year.  Jax watched Trolls three times.  Emma watched several movies until her screen froze about 4 hours from Tokyo.  This caused crisis #2!  Despite the bag full of things she'd brought to do and the iPad with games and shows in it; she couldn't possibly function!  She had a meltdown complete with tears because she was sooooooo bored.   We played a few super competitive games of Uno and then I let her watch a movie on my screen while I tried to nap.  There would be no napping though because Jax needed me to entertain him and take him to the bathroom several times.  All in all, the kids were amazing given the fact that we were trapped in a very small space for a very long time.  No one needed medication or a stiff drink!  I'd call that success.

Finally, after 13 long hours it was wheels down at Narita airport in Tokyo!   This is where the real fun begins.  Stay tuned this week for more blog entries about visiting a country where you can't speak or read the language and your kids hate all the food!