31 October, 2009

Japanese vending machines

I miss vending machines! Truly. In Japan and especially in Tokyo they are everywhere and very convenient. Australian drinks are so expensive compared to ones you can buy from Japanese vending machines. But drinks are not the only thing you can buy from vending machines in Japan. Check this out for an eye opening look at the variety of things you can buy.

Time is money or is it?

A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about how sometimes Time=Money and sometimes it doesn't. Actually, most times time doesn't equal money. Get involved in creative work and it is hard to see that time equals money. I mean, how long does it take to write an excellent song or craft a readable book? What about the value of time when you are changing dirty nappies or cleaning up vomit? When you're comforting a friend or catching up on the phone? Even in a job where time does equal money it doesn't always work. When I worked as an Occupational Therapist in rural Queensland I was an employee of Queensland Health. They paid me a rate per hour. But each hour I spent on the job wasn't equal. Some clients came to see me at the hospital where I was based, for others I travelled two hours each way to go and see. I hope they were thankful that the government picked up the tab. I had to try not to think of the financial side of things. The client who lived two hours away was just as important as the one who lived down the street. Motherhood and parenting in general are difficult to measure in the time=money formula. But so is Christian work. I'm sure that more than one church has tried to do it. Not sure how successful it can be. Prayer, sermon preparation, evangelism, visitation etc. Who can put a price? To put it more personally, we ourselves are doing work where it is impossible to put a money value on our time. We've travelled and stayed overnight to do a meeting for 12 people. Done a very similar thing in a different place and reached 100 people. Just the other day I drove nearly two hours to a prayer meeting for five people, none of whom financially support us, but all of whom pray diligently for us and Japan. Actually it is detrimental if we think in monetary terms. Thoughts like, "Will this meeting generate financial support?" puts a lot of pressure on you to perform. And takes your eyes off God and what He might be doing in the hearts of people, something you cannot put a money value on. Instead we put our financial needs before our heavenly Father and then try to get on with our work. And trust that God has prepared the way before us.

30 October, 2009

More on wearing my summer kimono

I asked a couple of days ago advice about wearing my summer kimono at our Saturday evening Japanese evening. The overwhelming response was 'Yes'. So I will, with a proviso. It is a relatively uncomfortable garment (aren't most elegant outfits?). It has four belts as well as a large stiff bow at the back which doesn't allow me to relax into a chair back. Additionally the shoes are shorter than my foot (that is the correct size for some reason). So, I've decided to take a back-up. An alternative to change into if I get too sick of it. Trick is, when? The evening will (hopefully) run something like this: 5pm set up 6pm 100 people arrive and eat 7pm divide into 4 groups introduction slipper relay 7.30 groups rotate around 4 stations - origami, DVD, language lab and a scavenger hunt based on our mission stand 8.30 conclusion with a short presentation about CAJ (Christian Academy in Japan) and question time. What do you think? Do I eat with the yukata (correct name for summer kimono) on and change before 7 or do I do it the other way around?

TV is not playing what I want...

We're trying to educate our 4 y.o. right now that TVs don't play what you want when you want. Sound strange? He wants Playschool to be on now, and doesn't understand that because it is not yet 9.30, it is not on. This is because our kids have mostly watched English videos and DVDs in Japan, which, of course, are in our total control and don't run by a schedule. They certainly don't watch much TV and usually I use it very strategically because I can control when they watch it. They mostly watch TV while I'm making dinner, in that nasty period that every mum knows about - 4.30 onwards! Just when you're trying to prepare the food they need and they require much more assistance than usual to manage their relationships! TV doesn't necessarily fit so neatly into our timetable. However we're enjoying a spot of Aussie TV every now and then. It is nice to watch new episodes of Playschool, for example.

29 October, 2009

Things about me that have changed

Someone pointed out yesterday that we've lived in Japan for almost a decade. Sounds imposing when you put it like that. I've have noticed a few things that I probably do differently to 10 years ago, and not just because I'm older!
  • I use my hands to illustrate some of my words, like numbers. This comes of learning another language and lacking confidence that people will understand your words. Interesting that it has translated over into English.
  • I've been told I speak softly (except when dealing with children who aren't responding). I don't think that this was particularly a characteristic of mine before I went to Japan. A couple of theories - possibly just Japanese. I wonder if it is also born of sticking out so much and trying to compensate by speaking softly?
  • I don't like my shoes on in the house, though possibly that was the case before.
  • I can tend to go over the top in humour or speaking my mind, just because I can.
  • I speak to people in lines, chat to bank employees, checkout chicks - just because I can!
  • I pay less attention to what others think. For years we've been living in another culture, with lots of people paying a lot of attention to us. In the end I've had to largely disregard them and get on with doing my own thing. Sounds weird, but here's an example; managing my kids in public. In Japan they attract a lot of attention in public, just because of the way they look. Dealing with bad behaviour in public is tricky in the face of that. I've had to block out the fact that lots of people are observing us and get on with managing my family as best I can.
  • Related to the above but slightly different - I've grown fairly comfortable with me (this is a sign of age too, I know). We are living lives so different from most of the people around us - here and in Japan - that we've had to find our own plimsoll lines. How much we can take on, when to say no, even what to feed my family, how to manage my own kids, and what my own role will be outside of my home-maker role. With so few people as role models it has not been easy and negative comparison with others is a potential trap.
Well, that is quite a few things, ranging from the surface to quite deep. Anyone who knew me before and now want to add their observations? We have had virtual strangers tell us they can tell we've lived in Japan, just from the way we carry ourselves! Scary!

28 October, 2009

Should I wear my summer kimono?

We have about 90 people coming to a Japanese evening in Toowoomba on Saturday. It will be both fun and informative - the best combination! My question is, should I wear my summer kimono? Advice please!

27 October, 2009

Japanese customs

Doing some research this morning, I stumbled upon a webpage called "10 Japanese Customs You Must Know Before A Trip to Japan". It has some interesting observations on Japanese customs. I love it when you read something that crystallises something you know, but haven't been able to put it into words yet. Here are a couple I found this morning on the above page:
Some false assumptions among many Japanese that’s slowly being dispelled by time is the “uniqueness” of Japan...(and therefore)
  • Japan is the only country that has four seasons;
  • foreigners can’t understand Japan; (nor can they speak Japanese)
  • only Japanese can use chopsticks properly.

It's absolutely true. So many times people have commented on my amazing ability to speak Japanese (or use chopsticks) when I've only uttered a short phrase, no better than a primary schooler might do....

Here's another key insight:

Drawing attention to yourself as an individual is a huge no-no: don’t blow your nose in public, try to avoid eating while on the go, and don’t speak on your cell phone in crowded public areas like trains or buses.

The main problem with this is that foreigners simply can’t avoid standing out; we stick out like sore thumbs no matter how long we’ve been here, or how much we know about Japanese culture and society.

As a result, being in Japan gives foreigners the status of D-level celebrities: you’ll get glances...
...and more. Especially if you have white babies or children. We've had ladies nearly swooning at the "cuteness" of our kids! It is wonderful to be in a land at present where we don't stick out. And in fact, where it doesn't matter too much if you do!

26 October, 2009

A mum-of-boys

I feel distinctly like a mum-of-boys tonight. Dinner tonight was Pirate Ship Pizzas with various salad accessories (row boat tomatoes, lettuce sea, cucumber turtles etc.) Eaten with much enthusiasm by our boys. I also went shopping with our 7 y.o. to buy him his birthday present with the Gift Card his grandma gave him. We bought a large castle. I even paid a little extra to secure this gift, thinking it'd be a great addition to our family's collection. This boy thing is obviously growing on me. Finally yesterday at the meeting we went to in preparation for a post-Christmas Scripture Union camp, there was some pretty bad "boy" humour going around and I was laughing. My friend shook her head. They decided it was my boys who'd shaped and moulded me! And here was I thinking that I was training them!

Just as I thought

Sarah's name has changed. She's now known as Jessica. No reason given, his owner just decided a change was needed. She also changed shells yesterday. It is all getting rather confusing. We haven't killed any of them yet. In fact they all look distinctly happy. Just as happy as I am to hear the rolling thunder. Rain is invading my sense - I can hear and smell it. We've waited several months for beautiful soaking rain. We haven't heard it in Australia since we arrived. I miss rain. In Tokyo it rains about 122 days a year at an average of 1.5m each year. It's often wet. Wet enough that we all had our own umbrella with one or two spares. Our youngest has had an umbrella almost from when he could walk because he got dragged along on all our kindergarten drop-offs and pick-ups as well as grocery shopping without an undercover carpark. And umbrellas are just a lot less messy than raincoats when jumping in and out of cars. Japan has some very cute umbrellas for kids. One of our son's kindy friends had one which resembled a lady bug. Most Japanese have several umbrellas. A clear one for riding the bike, a tiny folded one for just-in-case days, a large one for parties, a formal looking one and probably several others! They come cheap and expensive. And they're used frequently. Here's a typical photo. Our boys are feeling the rain thing too. Our eldest said it felt like he was back in Japan this evening. Ahhh natsukashiiii! (Japanese for 'a nostalgic feeling'.)

25 October, 2009

A story on promises

We've had a busy day today with deputation, boys and a Scripture Union pre-camp meeting (more on that later). I'm tired, so here is a Japanese story which came through my inbox some weeks ago. PROMISES ARE TO BE KEPT A fascinating anecdote is told in Japan of the famous 16th-century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wanted to reward one of his faithful retainers. “You can have anything you desire,” Hideyoshi said. “In that case, please give me one grain of rice today, then two grains tomorrow, and four on the day after that,” the retainer replied. “Please continue to double the grains of rice for the same number of days as there are squares on a shogi board.” (A shogi board is a Japanese chess board with 81 squares). “If you only want grains of rice, you're a man of few wants,” he said. “You shall have your wish.” Hideyoshi was dumbfounded by his request. One month later, however, a commotion broke out at Hideyoshi's residence, Osaka Castle. Upon the retainer’s request, a succession of rice bags was being brought out from the rice granaries. The number of rice grains continues to double each day, and by the 30th day, the amount due was 540 million grains. Since one rice bag, weighing about 60 kilograms, can contain about 2.5 million grains, the retainer was due to receive more than 200 bags on the 30th day. The combined amount of rice Shinzaemon received up to the 30th day would have reached 400 bags. Likewise, the retainer was due to receive 800 rice bags on the 31st day and 1,600 bags the following day. On the 45th day, he was due to receive more than 2.5 million bags of rice. Even if Hideyoshi, who managed to unify the nation, had given away all his assets, he still would not have been able to keep the promise he made to the retainer. He turned white and was at his wits end. “It's my fault. Won't you please name something else as your reward?” Hideyoshi begged the retainer. “You should never make a thoughtless promise by offering someone anything they want,” the retainer cautioned his master. The overconfident Hideyoshi had a pang of regret for having made a promise that he was not able to keep. Source: Yomiuri News, by Mr. Akio Hayashida, 2008-05-13

24 October, 2009

Sarah, Jaz and Spikey

It's more than 24 hrs since we became proud owners of three hermit crabs. They've been named Sarah, Jaz and Spikey. (Sarah and Jaz pictured - though they're very difficult to get a good shot of). Spikey is our 4 y.o.'s. He helped us chose them while his brothers were at school! Much pride! Nearly got himself run over as he left the pet shop and carried them ever so carefully across the carpark, heedless to the traffic he was holding up. Spikey's shell is, well, spiky. We're unsure if that name will hold when Spikey decides to change shells. Jaz (correctly spelled his proud 10 y.o.owner tells me) managed to change shells this afternoon without anyone noticing - quite a feat when we were all home and the novelty of 'hermit crab watching' hasn't yet worn off. Sarah's name was a surprise. Her 7 y.o. owner has a reputation for being pretty anti-girl, maybe that is changing. Of course we cannot tell the sex of the crabs, but for now Sarah is a girl. Her name hasn't changed in 27 hours, despite our fears. She is a challenge to integrate into our household, though. Up till now Mummy is the only one for whom female pronouns were required. She, her and hers should be getting a work-out now, but just sometimes the male pronouns slip in. We watched with amusement when Jaz and Spikey fought over a desirable pozzy in their new home. For several minutes they continuously flipped the other out of the cosy corner. At first Spikey's owner was upset, but soon he realised that no one was getting hurt, they were just playing. Eventually Spikey won anyway and Jaz sulked away to another spot to rest. We've been to three different Pet Shops in two days now, in order to get all the right bits. Certainly a diversion for our household. And I'm still feeling like a new mum, worried that we're going to kill them off in the first week. I'm also wondering how long the "I'll get them some new water." spirit will prevail? We're supposed to bath them in salt water once a week and probably clean their flooring once a month. We'll see how good we are at hermitat housekeeping.

22 October, 2009

Aussie culture explained for North Americans

There are some very interesting insights into Australian culture for Americans here. I pretty much knew everything about Australia, which is reassuring. I'm not sure I'd agree with Americans trying to say the word "G'Day" much though. They mangle it dreadfully and I'd be tempted to laugh at them. I learnt (or learned for the US educated) some things about America, for example a “main course” (as the US use it) is an entrée in Australia, while “entrée” is the term used to refer to an appetizer.

Preparing for pets

After my last post on pets many gave me helpful advice. Balancing them all up, we've decided to buy three hermit crabs (one for each boy). Yesterday I went and bought them a home, shell grit for a floor covering and a water container. I was particularly pleased that I found them a portable home. It even has handles, so when we're away we can take them with us. The boys were suitably excited. They jostled over who was going to set up the home (with interior decorating, as you can see). They discussed what they could call them and my discerning 10 y.o. wondered why they needed a roof. Told that the crabs can climb, he pondered how. Our 7 y.o. is a little obsessed with names at present. It's been a recent revelation to him - the amazing variation of western names. In the last few weeks he's made a rather long list in a sketch book and is proceeding to name and rename stuffed toys, brothers, himself, toy cars and now, presumably, his pet hermit crab. We're fearing for his poor crab, that it will have itself an identity crisis. Not only will its name change regularly, but probably its sex too. All up, I'm glad that I didn't buy the crabs yesterday. They might have been unwittingly murdered in the frenzied excitment. Tomorrow our 4 y.o. will help me buy them after our dental check-up (which happens to be near the pet store).

21 October, 2009

A typical day?

This probing question was asked of us yesterday by a friend. It was hard to answer, because we don't really have typical days at the moment. Let me look back at my calendar and give you some idea of what I've been doing. Kids to school and home again. Grocery shopping and the gym. Probably these have been the most routine parts of our days, although the last two have had to be juggled to fit in in recent days. So between 9 and 2.30 I've done these things in the two and a half weeks:
  • Seen the doctor
  • Visited Koorong
  • Professional development (observing an OT treatment session)
  • Visited OMF office for more resources for deputation
  • Deputation - Japan Focus morning teas
  • Visiting with friends
  • Spent time with my mother in law
  • Lunch with husband !!!
  • Slept (after the Manila return debacle)
  • Shuffled a boy to Prep orientation day and back to PrePrep
  • Tourism (pupil free day on Monday)
  • E-mail - answered, wrote, deleted etc.
  • Blogged
  • Schedule arranging
  • Deputation planning
  • Cleaned (a little)
  • Baked
  • Wrote a prayer/newsletter
  • Miscellaneous errands like library book returns, pet shopping, banking, photocopied
  • Encouraged my husband in his assignment writing for his masters
  • Critiqued several pieces of writing for my internet critique group
  • Sought after resources on the internet for people
Is that enough? No day has been alike, except for the drop-off and pick-up times for the boys. And after all is said and done, I am still the mum of three lively boys who take up a good portion of time and energy, though thankfully not all at present. My time has been more flexible due to my husband being at home this year. It means that if I don't get to the gym in time in the morning (they are shut from 10.30 till 2.15, pretty inconvenient for school mums), I can go in the afternoon and know my kids will be taken care of. A luxury most don't have, I know. I'm enjoying it while I do! Weekends and after school has been pretty variable too. With swimming lessons, basket ball training and games, church visits, women's convention, a musical and guests for dinner three weeks running. We're keeping pretty busy. We feel it is okay to occasionally take it a little easy during the day as our weekends can be pretty crazy with work, not to mention boys.

20 October, 2009

Enjoying Japan?

I wrote the wrong question in my post yesterday. The question the lady asked me after lunch was, "You must enjoy Japan!?" This one threw me too. There is, actually, much I don't enjoy about Japan, like being apart from family and friends. Struggling to understand the language which makes me feel incompetent and be dependent on others. And sadness at the slowness of Japanese to accept the gospel. How would you answer someone who asked you, "Do you enjoy living in Australia?" I'm sure there are at least some things that bug you about this country. There are usually more things that bug you about an adopted country. Of course we are blessed to come from such a great country as Australia. Many who clamber to come here, like boat people, would not have too much to complain about compared to their previous situations. How did I answer the question/assumption? I simply said, "I don't enjoy Japan like one might enjoy a fun outing with one's family. I do feel a sense of peace and satisfaction, however, in being in the place where it seems God wants us to be." I don't know if she understood, though she did express some questions of her own, whether she was where God wanted her family to be. Actually I think it is a question that many Australian Christians don't ask themselves: "Am I where God wants me to be." Usually they've fallen into some place or other and remained there. I am reading a book at present called "Live Life on Purpose" by Claude Hickman. Really enjoying it. When I'm finished I'll post a book review and you can see what you think. One great quote is,
"The idea of those who are 'called' to ministry or missions is a category we have invented, not to explain their behaviour, but to excuse ours." p39

19 October, 2009

In a flap with from-confusion

I discovered that I no long know where I come from! Most of my life I've said (if I am speaking to an Australian) that I come from Toowoomba. (If I'm overseas, I say Brisbane and then explain where that is lol.) Toowoomba is becoming a tenuous place to lay claim to, after all I haven't lived there since I was a teenager...more than several years ago now. What led me to this conclusion was the flap I found myself in at the womens' conference on Saturday. At lunch time I was required to go to a certain group for lunch and during lunch to present a short devotion. I arrived and didn't find anyone I immediately knew, found lunch was under way and jumped into the food line. The ladies behind me asked, "Where do you come from?" Later I realise they were attempting some mild chit-chat, but at the time it threw me and I asked back, "What do you mean?" Well, we got off to a wonderful start because that threw them into a flap and so, with all of us flapping around like chickens in a dingo raid, it was getting rather messy. I could have given them any number of answers:
  • Toowoomba (not really true anymore)
  • Japan (but that needed some background)
  • OMF International (if they were really enquiring about what mission I was from)
  • Wynnum (where I'd slept the night before)
  • Brisbane (probably the correct answer, though not technically correct, because we're just outside the boundary)
Then I sat down and discovered that the people I was sitting with didn't realise there were missionaries in Japan! Though after a short explanation from me, they soon dived into a reasonable conversation, for which I was very grateful. On the way back to the main area after lunch I chatted with a lady who asked the quintessential bad question and one of my most hated: "So, you must really love Japan?!" After that I was most happy to sit down next to missionary friends and relax. The speaker only told me I was too busy and should take more time to reflect on my experiences. Phew! That is easier than trying to answer difficult questions.

18 October, 2009

Busy weekend

My night was not over at the end of our Japanese evening (mind you it wasn't very Japanese, no Japanese food, for example). After that I caught a lift with a couple of our guests, over to another missionary's house on the other side of town. Why? Because she was my lift early Saturday morning to a CWCI convention (ladies only) meeting. I didn't sleep well, in a strange bed and I kept rehashing the evening. Nonetheless got up early Saturday and went to this all-day meeting. We had a couple of small speaking duties during the day, but mostly it was a time of listening to refreshing speakers - which made a nice change. Believe it or not we do get sick of hearing our own voices over and over! I also enjoyed the journey, time to chat with my friend and fellow missionary. Our lives are so different, yet we have so much in common. She and her family have spent the last 14 years working with tribal groups in the southern Philippines. It was an enjoyable time. She was also my lift home. It was a pity we couldn't stay for the weekend, but we'd already been booked to speak at a church at the opposite end of Brisbane today. Getting home was as tricky as getting there (I didn't bore you with how complicated it was to get a lift with her in the first place). My husband and the boys had their own fun yesterday. In the morning our 10 y.o. played basketball and in the afternoon/evening they went to a friend's church's outreach event, including face painting and a bouncing castle. Then they had to drive to the opposite side of Brisbane to pick me up. For the second day in a row our boys got to bed late. This morning we got up at the usual time, but drove an hour north to speak at a supporting church. A busy morning. From setting up at the start, then doing a children's talk, a mission spot and David preaching. Then we talked casually to folk for more than an hour afterwards over lunch, is it any wonder that I slept for an hour after we got home? Actually this weekend has been so full that I have plenty of blogging material for the days to come, including the interesting/stupid questions of the weekend. :) Right now these over tired parents are trying to get extra tired boys through the dinner-bedtime routine. (Actually I'm taking a break so that I don't totally blow my top...)

How did it go?

Friday night went so differently from planned, that I thought I should let you know how it went. First of all, it was successful in terms of how many came. More than 100% of those who replied came - we had 10 rather than 8! We had heaps of food and plenty of conversation. Many had actually met before, so that helped, or maybe it hindered the evening. Conversation wasn't a problem, so we let informal conversation go on a bit too long. Before we knew it, the evening was almost over (young parents almost asleep on the bean bag) and we'd done almost none of what we'd planned. Nor did we manage good conversations with everyone. Another factor were the latecomers. Understandable that that might happen, but it threw out our already rather feeble program. Hmmm. We're not sure how everyone felt about the evening. We felt like we'd under-delivered. The boys also refused to go to bed or get involved. Instead they terrorised our guests by letting balloons go without tying them and running around with self-constructed swords and daggers. Boys! Next time we'll need to be more disciplined and try to deliver what we promise. We found it easy to slip into the hospitality mode of feeding people and chatting with them. That's good, I suppose, and would probably work with a smaller group of people. Some we had long, useful conversations (full of good questions), but others missed out. So, a bit disappointed. Nevertheless we'll try again next year, after the summer holidays. Maybe we'll do a better job second time round.

16 October, 2009

Focussing on Japan tonight

We are trying something different. Many of our supporters are individuals spread all over Brisbane and surrounding areas. It is difficult to see everyone and not everyone can invite us to their church or home. So we're trying inviting groups of people to our house. A couple of months ago we sent out invitations to more than twenty people setting out some dates we were available. Times varied from week-day morning teas to a Friday night. Not many people replied, but tonight we have eight people (and one baby) coming for a bring and share dinner and then some relatively informal time to interact with them about our time in Japan. None of them have met before, as far as we know. We're hoping it'll go well. Using our own home makes some things easier, some things harder. It means we have to do some (limited) amount of housework, coordinate food a little and generally try to be good hosts. Integrating our kids into whatever we're doing is an ongoing challenge. At least here we can put them to bed (if they'll settle). Tonight we're going to get them to help us make some Sumo Origami and then hopefully entice them to bed. At least tomorrow is the weekend. Here's a question for you. If a missionary you supported invited you to their home, what would you like the see, hear or do? If we invited you to our home, what would you be interested in? You'd have to bone up on good questions :-)

15 October, 2009

Christian bookstores

I went to Koorong today. For non-Aussies, this is the largest chain of Christian book stores in Australia. It's been over two years since I visited an English Christian book store. I very quickly developed the same glazed-eye heady feeling I experienced a couple of months ago when I first visited our local library and browsed in a mainstream English bookstore. Many a bad word has been said about Koorong, but I have to say for me that is a little bit like saying to a thirsty man just back from a sojourn in the desert, "I don't like this brand of water." To have easy access to a huge range of Christian books is such a wonderful privilege. Yes, they might not have all the books that you might like them to have, but hey, there are books you can buy and read, they have music you can listen to and understand. There is material here which will nourish your soul. Praise God!

14 October, 2009

Pets and mission

Have you thought about how missionary kids often cannot have pets? I do know several missionaries who do have pets, so perhaps I'll just talk about us. We haven't any pets. The main reason is the bi-country life we lead. Having a pet like a dog would make shifting countries more complicated. Probably a lot of grief too. I can't imagine how long we'd have to leave a dog or cat in quarantine if we were to own one and bring it on home assignment with us. Or even more difficulty, leaving a beloved pet for a year just sounds like too much heartache for us. It is difficult enough to leave a place you are established in and say goodbye to friends, let alone pets. My husband often says - "If only we could find a pet which had a 3-4 year life span..." Additionally our mission generally has its missionaries in rented accommodation, and rented accommodation (at least in Japan and Australia) is more difficult to find when you have a pet. If you're thinking about dogs, I think having a dog in Tokyo is pretty cruel to both owner and pet. No backyards so taking dog for a daily or twice daily walk is necessary, but it rains a third of the days in a year. Is freezing cold for several months and steaming hot a couple more. It all adds up to many days that I wouldn't be keen to do the daily exercise thing, though many do. Now what brings this on is that our boys are asking for a pet. Our house has a No Pet rule in the lease. We figure we could probably buy a couple of fish and not violate the rule. But the more I look into fish, the less easy-care and cheap they sound. It is not as if you can buy a fish bowl and plonk a couple of goldfish into it! Thought briefly about a worm farm...but we'll be away for several weeks in the summer and they'd probably all die in the Brisbane heat. Reptiles...salmonella is a risk. Anyone got some advice for us? What can we do? Maybe a pet rock?

Chinese modify the weather

Maybe we could learn something from the Chinese. This came to us in an email this week: ARTIFICIAL WEATHER MODIFIERS Artificial rain suppression equipment was successfully used at the opening (and closing) ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Weather officials fired over a 1,000 rockets, to ensure that no rain would fall on the Olympics opening ceremony, where 15,000 performers participated and over 91,000 spectators gathered. The Beijing Weather Modification Program successfully intercepted stretches of rain, and possible lightning and thunder, moving toward the stadium. From 20 firing sites and anti-aircraft batteries, they hunted for pregnant rain clouds, pounded them with rockets containing silver iodide, and dissipated the clouds completely. “Ours is the largest artificial weather controlling program in the world,” Mr. Wang, the Director of the Weather Modification Department of China said. They employ more than 32,000 people, 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 special rocket launchers and 30-odd aircraft across the country. When a drought is threatening farms and orchards on the outskirts of Beijing, a group of farmers assemble, not to perform a rain dance or gather in a temple to beat the drums and pray to the Lord Buddha to bring the rain. Instead, they grab rocket launchers and 37mm anti-aircraft guns and begin shooting into the sky. Their targets are not enemy aggressors but wisps of passing cloud that they aim to "seed" with silver-iodide particles around which moisture can then collect and become heavy enough to fall. The farmers are part of the biggest rain-making force in the world. Between 1999 and 2006, 250 billion tons of rain was artificially created, enough to fill the Yellow River several times over. Not only do they bring rain to parched areas, but they break up damaging hailstorms, put out forest fires and fighting sandstorms by coaxing rain from passing clouds. “No matter what, no one can produce rain from blue skies,” Mr. Shi Lixin, a so-called ‘weather modifier’ said. “It all depends on cloud physics.” Sadly enough, the need for rainwater has produced squabbles on the ground. Two years ago, five thirsty cities in Henan province accused each other of ‘cloud theft’ for their efforts to trigger chemically induced showers, over their own territories.

12 October, 2009

Australia is not Asia

Egged on by a reader after these two blog posts, I'll attempt to show you some ways in which Australia is not Asia. Emphasis on individual rights We've been surprised in Australia at how frequently we've received profuse apologies from various service providers when delays or incidents have impinged on our day. For example, when the doctor couldn't see us on time due to a previous patient's lengthy consultation or a librarian who wrestled with an unknown problem in checking out our books. The only explanation can be that there are a lot of consumers in Australia who are demanding their rights and are in a tremendous hurry. Japanese service providers do apologise in similar circumstances, but in contrast there is a lot more patience from consumers with delay. Less insistence in having their own way in a timely manner. Asians are certainly less vocal about their complaints. Road rage is also less of a problem in Asia. Relationships with one another Australians are very casual in this regard. I find myself calling my doctor by their first name. Many children are calling adults by their first names too. Aussies don't have much regard for status. Asians are much more status-aware. Conversations often begin with a lot of figuring out where you fit in relation with one another. Age, education, position are key points that change how you talk to another. No way would I call my doctor in Japan by anything but "sensei". Nor would I call anyone except very close friends anything but their surname. Japanese find it difficult to call me "Wendy". Education system East vs West is fairly clearly defined. West is focussed on understanding and processing material; "think for yourself" might be a motto of western education. Asians focus on being able to regurgitate the material. This is related to the high position that the teacher holds. Our of respect for the teacher, the students do not question what the teacher says. Switching school for our son in Japan emphasised this. Maths in the Japanese school focused on repetition hundreds of times. Maths in the western international school had a lot less repetition. The Asians who sent their kids to CAJ found this hard to grasp and accept. This is a key point that is probably disregarded when people say Australia is becoming Asian. Our education system is still very western. Immigrants will almost all put their kids into our schools and hence the second generation will be less Asian than their parents. Individualism vs group mentality Westerners value being individualism. "Do your own thing", "Don't be a door-mat" are two examples that demonstrate this. Asians are much more concerned with group harmony and not doing things that would disrupt this. They are also very concerned that people feel cared for and not left out. A good example of this is at Curves, the gym I use. Curves is international, but there are differences between the way an Australian Curves and a Japanese Curves look after their customers. In both countries you do a circuit of machines and recovery stations. In Japan you join onto the end of a line of people exercising and move around the machines as a group. In Australia you start the circuit wherever you want and usually Aussies try to keep a bit of a distance between each person. In Japan, if you are the only person exercising at that time there will always be a trainer with you, either exercising alongside you or talking to you. They feel it is too lonely to be doing it by yourself. I have done many circuits on my own in Australia, with very little attention from the trainer. Westerners often feel there are too many rules in Japan. We've found that many of the rules are in place so that everyone knows how to behave and is not embarrassed by doing something odd. The rules tell them how to conform to the group and that makes them comfortable (as much as it makes us uncomfortable). Privacy "An Englishman's home is his castle." Yes, in Australia too. Aussies need room to breathe. Children in a family very often have their own room. Coming back from Asia we are amazed at how big Australian homes are - and that people are usually planning to add more rooms. Many Asians live in heavily populated areas and their houses aren't big. They may never have the luxury of having space to call their own. Children in an average family probably will never have the opportunity to choose their own room's decor and have their own space. We had friends who had three children and lived in a two bedroom apartment. Their three children shared one room, the youngest sleeping in the spacious cupboard. But their place was quite western by comparison to many Japanese. Many families sleep with their children in the same bed/room until their kids are quite old (like middle primary age). I noticed another aspect of this in Manila. At the shopping centre we were followed around the shop by employees. The overwhelming feeling we had was, "Leave me alone, I'm Australian and need space." Asians, because of their lack of physical space find privacy within their own minds. No one can intrude there. Hence, the inscrutable Oriental. Directness Westerners are very direct in their approach. "What is the problem?" and "How do we fix it?" whereas Asians are more circular in their approach. I haven't gotten a handle on this one yet, to be honest! Well, there are just a few differences. Any comments? Disagreement? More examples? I know that others with more Asian experience read this blog - we'd welcome your input.

11 October, 2009

More on Manila

My Manila-adventure travelling companion and room-mate, Janet, has written eloquently on her blog about the magazine editing conference we attended. Take a look. I'm excited about how I can contribute to Japan Harvest in the future. Now that I am physically getting back to something like normal (I've slept about five hours during the day over the weekend), my creative juices are cooking again too. (What a bad clique...) Look out!

10 October, 2009

Word verification ditching crusade

My cyberfriend is on a crusade to ditch word verification. I ditched it some time ago and haven't had a problem, in fact less problems for people trying to comment. Other bloggers, will you join us?

Sumo origami

We love origami in our house. Particularly on a rainy, cold day when we're forced to stay inside (happens more in Japan than it does in Australia). One of our favourites is making sumo wrestlers and having wrestling bouts. Here you will find instructions. When you're finished making the sumos, you face them off on a somewhat unstable surface, like the top of a box and tap the surface so it wobbles a little. The first sumo to fall over is the loser. We made sumos with a group at Mt Tamborine last week. It was challenging for some to get their fingers working over small pieces of paper, but their results were good and fun too!

09 October, 2009

Mowing the lawn

My shocked 4 y.o. has just rushed out of the house to witness an unheard of event in his life. His father is mowing the lawn! Now my husband isn't lazy, quite the opposite. However, in the last 4 1/2 years of our son's life he has not had a lawn to mow. All the grass we had in Tokyo (below) was easily managed with some grass clippers. My pleasure in it (besides not having to push the thing) is the wonderful smell of cut grass. It takes me right back to my childhood!

08 October, 2009

Is Australia Asian?

On Tuesday I wrote, "Australia is not Asia, no matter what how you try to twist it." A Sydney-ite queried me on this, wondering if I'm a Queenslander with my head stuck in the sand. Actually I am not. We do have significant populations of Africans and Asians living in our suburb. But seriously, I do stand by my statement. Yes, Australia is changing. I don't think there is a culture in the world that is not changing in this era of global communication, mass marketing and internationalisation. Many changes are superficial, however. A book called "One World, Two Minds" by Dennis Lane, a former missionary with OMF International, puts it this way:
An Asian "businessman may know all about economics and be thoroughly conversant with business management, yet underneath he still acts and reacts in an Asian way...We remain deeply influenced by our original culture." p5
Yes, the face of Australia is changing. It has been for a long time. There are micro-cultures within our country. There have been for a long time. This doesn't significantly change the basic fundamentals of our thinking. Our society is basically Western. Our systems and thinking come from Greek philosophy as well as our Christian heritage (not Australia's but British/European). Just because we have immigrants arriving from different parts of the world doesn't change an overall nation. Of course people have written books on this. For all I know people have probably based their PhDs on this. I haven't, and though I've lived in Asia for the last eight years, I cannot claim to be a sociologist. So feel free to challenge me. I'm open to debate, though I might not change my mind.

Teaching kids about mission

Here is one of the things I did last month. This is a newsletter I put out four times a year. It is for primary aged children, telling them about Japan and encouraging them to pray for Japan and Japanese people. I really want children growing up in the church to know that involvement in cross-cultural mission is normal. It is something that every Christian should be involved in at some level.

07 October, 2009

Manila's Christians use Facebook for Disaster Reports

It seems strange that we were in Manila and yet saw no floods. But, then again, Manila is a large city. International news can be a strange beast. I remember when when we were in in Indonesia in 1993. Reports came through about fires near Sydney and that "Sydney had been evacuated."!!! The whole of Sydney - NO! We laughed at the notion. While in Manila, though we didn't see much evidence of flooding where we were (though it had been flooded in the hotel we were in), we met people who had closer to first-hand experience. One of the Filipino ladies at our course wrote this blog post for Christianity Today. It is good to read something not written for mass publication by professional journalists whose integrity you question.

06 October, 2009

Early reflections on my week away

Asia is still Asia. The area of the world I've lived in for much of the last decade. Japan and the Philippines are very different. Vastly different in some ways, but still probably more similar to each other than they are to Australia. Australia is not Asia, no matter what how you try to twist it. 

How's that for a vague paragraph? It probably was born of travelling with someone who hasn't real been to Asia at all. I was more comfortable with it than she was. Possibly a factor is that I have been living out of my own culture for so long that another culture doesn't bother me so much. I certainly didn't feel very homesick. Japan has probably immunised me against that! I am used to being surrounded by beautiful Asian faces too, that didn't bother me. Actually it felt very familiar. 

When I arrived home, my mother-in-law was visiting (we invited her to help David with the boys). She had an interesting insight into our boys. She said, "Not only are they intelligent (!!), but they are unlike any kids I've ever met." Now that sounds bad, but she meant it in a positive way. Actually I think she was picking up the 'foreign-ness' of them. That they've grown up in an Australian household, but in the context of another country. 

You're thinking, "What has this got to do with this blog-post?" It is this - travelling in Asia with someone who's lived her entire life in Australia, showed me how much being an overseas missionary has changed me deeply. It has touched every part of my life and changed many of my attitudes and reactions. My perspective on the world is permanently changed. Not that I am better than someone who hasn't had the same life experiences, by no means, but I am different. 

Reflecting on magazine editing. Which, after all, is the reason I went on this adventure in the first place. My future with Japan Harvest is not totally clear. Probably it will be an evolving role. Mission work is different from a paid job; boundaries and responsibilities are often less clear and often it is up to you how much you pour into something. I am excited, however - magazine editing is something I definitely have an interest in and has much room for learning and growth. I can see the current editor needs help and we'll see how much I can do. 

Of course I have a lot of other responsibilities over the coming couple of years, but hopefully I can gradually help him more. I'd also like to do more writing for magazines. That requires discipline. We'll see if I'm up to it. But for now, I need some more rest...my stomach is still not up to much at one time. At least I'm not racing to the bathroom frequently, though.

05 October, 2009

Back home

We had a bit of a nightmare trip home from Manila. The plane had a technical fault which they discovered on the tarmac in Manila. We waited in the plane on the tarmac for two hours and then in the terminal for another three and a half while they tried to fix the plane. They eventually got another plane and we took off at about 2 am, missing our connecting flight in Hong Kong. The next available flight was nearly 20 hrs later, but Cathay Pacific gave us a (really nice) hotel room and three meals while we waited. We finally landed in Brisbane at 10.15 this morning. The whole journey took 24 hrs longer than planned! And 40 hours in total. A long time to get from Manila to Brisbane. Now I'm off to bed. Here it is Monday night and I haven't had a full night sleep since Friday night. I'm pretty exhausted!

03 October, 2009

Gastro and magazine editing, but not on the same day.

My stay in Manila is almost over. Outside the hotel, the wet, humid wind of a typhoon increases. Hopefully the strong winds will stay away from the airport and allow our plane to take off at 7.45 (9.45pm Brisbane time). My stay has not been without incident. I spent Thursday in bed with gastro. Thankfully one of the conference staff members had medication she gave me to cut short the symptoms. Being sick in a foreign hotel is uncomfortable. None of the comfort food you desire is available. Thankfully, though, I didn't have to look after my family at the same time. It was very peaceful and I read a thick novel in bed all day - what a luxury! We don't know if it was food poisoning or a bug. The night before my dinner was a bagel from Starbucks across the road, hardly risky, one would think! My travelling companion and room mate is down with stomach cramps and diarrhoea today too. Lovely couple we make! Internet access has been patchy, thus I've not been able to be in contact with my family (or write on this blog) as much as I wanted. This is not Japan! However it has been an interesting week and one I don't regret. Editing a magazine is something I've had a vague interest in for a long time and it seems that God has led me in that direction in recent years. Now it looks like I have an opportunity to contribute to Japan Harvest, a magazine for the members of Japan Evangelical Missionary Association. We'll see what eventuates. I have heaps to learn and pray that the gifts of communication that God has given me will be of benefit to other missionaries in Japan.