“The World’s Alright With Me”

Simplicity is beauty. Choose a day as your day of simplicity. Speak little, and listen with attention. Eat simple and natural food. Create time periods for not doing anything – just walk, look around, live the moment. – Brahma Kumaris

Dear Friends,

Yesterday was payday. Any payday’s a good day, but yesterday my check was too big. Complaining about too much money may seem like a weird complaint, or one that should get a back slap, but my sizeable check forced me to take a look at my routine in Tokyo. Last month I worked more than sixty extra units. Sixty-three to be exact.

My contract requires me to work twenty-six and a half hours a week, and I enjoyed that open schedule for the first few months that I was here. However, I felt working three hours on some days and six on others left me with too much free time and not enough cash to be as consumeristic as Tokyo requires. I work across the street from the Nihonbashi Takashimaya (a major department store), one block from Coredo (a mini-mall), and two blocks from the Yaesu underground shopping plaza. It was a win- no gain situation; so, a few months ago I decided to open up my schedule and work bonus shifts at 7:45am, and any other available shifts. You’d be surprised at how many businessmen want to get their English in before heading to work.

Of course, my intention for working slavishly were dual: to save for a rainy day, and to finance my newfound expenses like lash extensions and bi-weekly hair straightening at Hayato. Thus, I’ve been working six days a week from early morning ’til night with large breaks in-between. When I have a break, I bike home and take a nap. Rarely do I make plans for the afternoon, ’cause just like a toddler, an old biddy, or a European, I know the afternoon’s nap time.

Yesterday was payday. The night before payday, I wrote a “Things to Do” list, and I wondered how my attempts at simplification were falling so woefully short; for example after paying rent I listed: 1) Buy Skin Food scrub 2) Get Clinique oil cleanser 3) New lipstick (fuchsia)? 4) Lashes at Sourcil 5) Buy skirt in other color at Coredo 6) Dress at Zara (and Nolley’s?) 7) Try finding shoes at Mitsukoshi or order online. I paid the rent, and decided to buy none of those things (except the cleanser). Sometimes, shopping’s like a feel good drug. For a very short time it satisfies, and then you’re right back where you started– wanting. We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.

As much as I love Madonna’s hit from the eighties, I’ve never considered myself a material girl. Designer labels are unimportant to me, having a lot of money was never a top priority, and I always felt I could do more with less. (Let the other Val speak for a minute here): I’m not materialistic, but I like “nice” things, comfort, the best of what I need whether it be skincare, haircare, or individual lashes added to mine. Yet, yesterday was a wake-up call; if my check could be a third more than usual, it meant that I wasn’t doing anything except working. Unacceptable. I live in a beautiful country that I haven’t seen; eight months later, I still haven’t been outside of Tokyo– not even to the zoo. (And, you all know I love a good zoo).

So, in the spirit of reclaiming spirit, calm, and true beauty (nature baby!), last night I decided to actually take my given two days off (not work on Thursday), and go to Hakone. Hakone, a ninety minute trip from Tokyo, is famous for its sulfuric hot springs, open air museum, and black eggs that when eaten can add seven years to your life. (I’m gonna eat two– it may also explain why every psychic I’ve ever visited told me I’d have a long life). See more here: http://www.hakonenavi.jp/english/introduction/index.html. I’ve booked a room in a traditional Japanese ryokan (guesthouse/hotel), where there’s no internet and included in the rate is dinner served in my room. The best part, my room has a private hot spring bath on the patio. (There’s still the option to do a group bath– same gender only). So friends, in two days, I’m looking forward to a peaceful retreat filled with insights, followed by a clear mind, followed by platters and platters of fresh sashimi and sushi, and a soak in hot springs. That’s the thing about money, it shouldn’t be maligned, it makes things possible. Ok, I’m off to nap.

See you soon (from Hakone!),

Val

“Mi Coffee”

10:08 am: I’m sitting in the Illy across the street from my school, because my first student of the day called to cancel his lesson. There’s a beautiful couple sitting across from me drinking frothy coffee topped with whipped cream. The girl faces me. She sits like my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Nosworthy, taught the girls to sit in the week that she taught us etiquette. I never sit like a lady, but this girl, with her ankles crossed, would make Mrs. Nosworthy proud.

In Tokyo, I sometimes feel a bit unpolished, unrefined, coarse, in contrast to many of the Japanese women around me who, for lack of a better word, are so “smooth.” I consider myself a fairly confident person, but here I’m struck by the fact that the women have a femininity that I don’t possess. Never really possessed. (My short skirts and high voice have nothing to do with what I mean).

11:15a.m: There’s an adult contemporary version of “Love is in the Air” playing , which is somewhat ironic, because apart from the couple near me, there are eight tables of singles looking somewhat forlorn.

All large city coffee shops are pretty much the same, aren’t they? Crowded; people sitting alone at tables for two; writing in notebooks; pecking on laptops; reading novels, yet never turning pages (maybe lost in an idea or a sentence); drinking slowly from large mugs; smoking mindlessly, watching; checking cellphone messages; reading magazines; living and simultaneously dying each moment. Most days I forget I’m in Tokyo, then I look around and realize, “Hey, I’m the only non-Asian person in here.”

* There’s a smoking section behind the glass.

Sometimes it’s cool to be the different one, sometimes it’s just odd. Japanese people have no qualms about blatantly staring. Sometimes I think, “Why am I here?” Not an existential questioning like, “Why am I here on earth?” but a literal, “Why am I here in Japan?” Since I’ve been here, within my group of my friends there have been joyous occasions (a wedding, a birth, a new pregnancy), and heartrending events (death), and they’re all happening far away. Life goes on elsewhere, and I’m here. Soon our lives become so distant and our only common ground is the past; yet, we hold on. Know that when we see each other, I’ll say to you, “Dis long time gal mi neva see yuh, come mek me hol’ yuh han'; come mek we walk and talk.”

In this moment, I hope my friends, and the ones who might need me, know that I love them and if thoughts count for anything I’m there in spirit…

My coffee’s finished, I must go, but before I do, let me tell you about “Mi Coffee.” “Mi Coffee” is a Jamaican folk song that I sang at my sixth grade graduation and want to remember, have realized and sing fifty years from now; the lyrics include:

I is an ole one now and I’ve traveled very far; I have seen the good days, and I mus’ be satisfied.

Never, Nunca, (副)決して; いまだに; 全く

Never is a word for young people. The word “never” is ridiculous and useless as one gets older. Anyone who uses the word in an absolute way, non-related to anything life-threatening, has consigned themselves to a life of inflexibility, restrictions and a certain smallness.

When I was younger, there were many things I swore I’d never do. Why? Because I had never done those things before, never tried them, and thus my list of nevers were easy to dismiss. Things I’d said I’d never do (in no particular order): eat raw fish, smoke, move to Asia, live in a shared house (again), have a one-night stand, wear pearls, tell people anything private about myself, date a guy who wears suits to work. The list of my nevers could’ve gone on and on (“’til the break of dawn”), as they changed with the years. I could’ve choked on my nevers.

One example: When I was a vegetarian, I despised pork more than any other meat. Why? 1) Because I think it’s a trend to hate pork 2) I had an extremely brief “I think I’m a Rasta” phase in 1999 3) Because I didn’t know then that my mind and will would be ever-evolving, flexible, and wholly subject to my desires.

Flash forward: A few days ago, B and I went to Hatos Bar in Naka-Meguro. B told me that, “Hatos is Southern Americana; an indulgent haven for pork lovers.” Hatos Bar seats only about fourteen people inside and four at an outside table. The first time I went with LD, as I’d reported in a previous post, we were offered a table outside. (It was freezing that day, so that was a no go). Paintings and other artwork cover Hatos’s walls, and its tables, chairs and bar area all have a rustic feel. The menus are slabs of board with food on one side and drinks on the other; the choices are few: pork belly, pork ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, mac and cheese, chili, french fries, chili fries, imported beers and other beverages. There are no greens on the menu, nothing that could be considered remotely healthy. (Ironically, enjoying a pork feast with no guilt is very “healthy” for me).

Over the weekend, we walked into the small space that smelled like slow-cooked ribs, family barbecues, and childhood summers. Unfortunately, when we tried to order the ribs, they were sold out; so, we ordered and shared everything else on the food side of the menu, except the chili. The pork belly (the first I’ve ever tried) was rubbed with spices, dribbled in bbq sauce, and served with a spicy potato salad.  (To think, I said I’d never…).

Here I sit in Asia, on a warm day, with many others who’re enjoying this blast of sunshine, on an outside step overlooking the water, reflecting on my pork never and so many nevers that came before. Nevers I need to explore. What else have I missed out on?

* You might’ve noticed that I ordered a huge cookie with the main dishes. There were only two left in the glass jar, and I didn’t want to miss out.___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

(A warm, gorgeous day.)

 

*Lucy 

Kaizen, Tying it Up, Last Night, and Supernovas

1) Yesterday, I taught Hiro K. Correction, I had a student named Hiro yesterday who taught me. At my language school, we’re told to follow “the method” closely, and to use the book which lays out the way a lesson should progress (in detail). It’s easy, and sometimes quite boring, so it’s the student that makes each forty minute session different. I’ve said it before, but for me it’s more about the overall experience than them simply learning to say some English expressions. I want them to have fun (and clearly, I want to enjoy myself too). We’re sometimes monitored (the rooms are rigged!), and I have been asked to rein in the “free conversation” a bit. However, it seems unnatural to me to open the text and just begin.

I’ve met some great people, exchanged email addresses with a few, Facebooked one or two (when I was on FB), and one (childless) older woman has been baking cakes and cookies for me. When I sent her an email that she really doesn’t need to give me treats, my friend B asked me if I thought about his needs when I sent that email. Truthfully, I never should’ve sent that message, to which she never responded. Two days ago, I sent an email to ask her about her welfare, and she promptly replied that she’s baking next week and will bring a cake to the school on May 24.

My last class of the evening, I met Hiro. He’s inspirational; started his own company in his twenties, retired in his thirties, got recruited to a large company in his forties, and now in his late fifties is the president of that company, which has a number of subsidiaries, to which he travels every month. One instructor passed by and said, “Oh, you have my favorite student.” Another came into the room, shook his hand, and told me that Hiro is the reason he’s pursuing his art. He makes you feel like you should be taking action… doing something.

Hiro told me to formulate a 3-month plan, a month plan, a ten-day plan, the essence of Kaizen. Plan, act, check progress, do it again. I’d never heard of kaizen before, and he looked at me as if I had three heads, and then started mapping it out for me. The basis of kaizen is constant improvement, both long and short-term. The goal is the mission, but each task, each day is also the mission. Every detail is important (i.e, in the mission of getting in shape, drinking a glass of water is as important as running a mile). In a role reversal, I started taking notes. Kaizen: Write what you want to accomplish, the things you need to do in the immediate future, then chart the progress. If things were realized toward accomplishing the goal, check them off. The unrealized tasks go back on the list and are worked on again. For more kaizen info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen

2) The universe works in conjunction. With Hiro’s lesson firmly implanted in my mind, my mother came along on Skype with the reinforcement of getting a plan, working towards something and reaping the reward of that action. We started talking about Jamaica and how I’d like to visit in October or November when fares are best. My mother told me that as much as she’d love to see me that I need to “tie up the money.” She told me not to come home, not to buy such an expensive ticket for a few days. Her words really hit home, because let’s face it I’m not financially secure. I make money, I spend money (not to mention that Tokyo’s as expensive as heck). God forbid an emergency arises. My philosophy has always been to enjoy life, life’s short. I’d espouse that I shouldn’t sit on a wad of cash when nothing’s promised. In four months, I spent the retirement plan I’d cashed out from my last job– one long vacation. Life’s for living, right? However, I see now that the future always arrives. It comes when you least expect it. So, I’m going to anticipate and plan for the future. While the yen is strong, the plan is to save for a few years and actually invest in my future. As my mother would and always does say, “Build a foundation.”

3) A part of investing in oneself is treasuring one’s time. Deciphering what’s valuable, what’s worth it. (It’s no accident that we use the same terminology for time and money, is it?). Let me tell you what happened last night, and how I know that I’ve turned over a leaf in my mind where I only do the things that will bring me some fulfillment. Last night, a friend and I rode from Kayabacho to Roppongi, which took us about an hour, because we got a little lost. No matter, it was a warm, slightly breezy night and the ride was enjoyable. We met up with another friend, and a friend of hers who was celebrating a birthday. It was Ladies Night in Roppongi, which means that in almost every bar we passed ladies drink free champagne and cocktails.

Twelve minutes in (after entering Vibrations– a basement spot), I assessed the situation and left. Maybe, five years ago, or even five months ago, it would’ve been a blast, but last night the scene was just so tired. What was the point? While everyone was drinking shots, I was drinking club soda, being cloaked in cigarette smoke from everyone around me, and not finding any redeeming feature about the situation.

On my way home, I texted my friend D, who I’d invited and didn’t make it. Here’s an excerpt of the exchange:

V: Haven’t been to Roppongi in a minute, and have quickly decided that I don’t care for it at all. Yikes.

D: I’m not gonna make it. Roppongi might finish me.

V: I left. On my bike trying to get home.

D: Yep. Happened to me recently. Walked home two hours.

V: Just not my scene anymore. What’s happened to us then?

D: Honest answer or feel good?

V: Aging?

D: Yes. Maturing. Becoming cynical.

V: So, why didn’t you tell me “Val, Roppongi’s a bad idea. Save yourself two hours?” I would’ve listened.

D: It’s much more effective if I let you touch the stove.

He’s right. I’m glad that I touched and left, didn’t linger in misery or annoyance as I would’ve done years ago. (Now, hours later, I’m curious about the feel good answer).

4) What happens when a star dies?

Throughout the life of a star, it burns up its fuel of hydrogen. As it hits rock bottom of hydrogen, sometimes, if it is large enough, it can fuse together other elements into heavier elements until finally, it cannot fuse together the final heaviest element anymore and the star dies.

Huge stars die out with a bang called a supernova.

We lose our stars, but we don’t forget them. We shouldn’t. That light, that shine, that specialness stays with us.

We love you Donna!

Happy Wednesday!

Dear Friends,

When I had a real job, Wednesday was the happiest day of the week. I should tell you that when I say “real job,” I mean a 9-5 that had me praying for the weekend. Wednesday was hump day. In two short days, the boring/tedious/demanding/excruciating week would be over. Wednesday! It’s always been my belief that looking forward to something is better than the realization of the event. Could be why Friday, unless it was payday, was always such a letdown.

Anyway, I just wanted to say hello (hi!), enjoy your Wednesday (and if you have a “real job,” your hump day). I’m off to bed, but before I go, I have a secret to reveal… my age. My age, which I’ve never told, will be obvious after I share Wednesday’s big tune with you. The lyrics popped into my head, and I had to youtube it immediately. (You’re welcome).

Take care,

Val

p.s Still awake. Send me an email, tell me if you remember this song. Did you dance around your living room listening to it; did you buy the single; did you have overalls? If yes, then we’re on the same page (and the same age). (You probably really love Humpty Dance too!).

That’s the break y’all