28 August, 2014

Culture shock while clothes shopping

I spent this morning shopping in an Australian shopping centre. Most of that shock about that has worn off now. 

But I'm still a little shocked at the clothing sizes. In Japan I usually need to look for L or XL sizes (photo proves it). Here I'm buying 10s and 12s plus one 8 today, depending on the brand and how tight I'm happy to wear. These are probably M or even S sizes. That's a bit shocking, but a good shock! I'm not a large person, so to have to buy such apparently large sizes in Japan is a bit of an indignity.

I wasn't shopping for jeans or long pants today, but if I had that's when I would have run into difficulties in Australia for my legs are often shorter than the short-legged pants here. Whereas in Japan, when I can get pants that have the right waist size, are almost always a perfect length (see here for an example of shopping in Japan for trousers).

So, it was a joy to have the time to shop on my own this morning for clothes and now I have some new clothes to welcome spring. I took a couple of boys shopping this afternoon for a brief period at a second hand store, but that experience is probably best untold! The morning's session was far nicer.

27 August, 2014

Caring for Missionaries

This photo is not related at all to this post, but it was just such a
stunning view (minus the power lines) from our front verandah
last Wednesday that I just had to share it with you.
I'm writing our prayer/newsletter again today. We write pretty regularly, but I'm aware that many missionaries struggle to do this. If you support missionaries who haven't contacted you for a while, how do you pray for them? 

Meredith of "The Key to the Door" blog wrote a good post a few months ago about Caring for missionaries you haven't heard from in a while. I recommend you check it out.

The main thing I would add to her post (I wrote it in comments on her post) is that you can pray for the psychological health of missionaries too.

26 August, 2014

A day in the life of a missionary on home assignment #1

After spending most of yesterday yawning, today David and I gathered the energy to do some "work" today. We dove into the miriad of email communications we've received from our mission headquarters here in Australia about our National Conference in Sydney this weekend. 

We're now closer to being prepared for all that's required of us on Friday afternoon (several informal sharing times) and Saturday (a 3 minute sharing time in front of a group as big as 300 people, twice leading a 40 minute workshop about support ministries, and a fun culture evening where we're helping people make origami). Thankfully nothing on Sunday that we know of, except people wanting to talk to us whenever and wherever.

Then late-morning I caught a train for the city, to meet with one of my new Japanese friends (I wrote about them here) for lunch. We had a lovely time, chatting for a couple of hours, in both Japanese and English. The idea for us meeting is "Language Exchange". It is a rare thing for me to find someone to chat to in Japanese here in Australia, so this is a golden opportunity. 

Language Exchange is always a challenge however, because one or the other language can take over the whole conversation. Or you can get lazy because both languages are known in part by both people, you can end up mashing the languages together. I think we did okay today, but I did miss my Tokyo language exchange partners

Meeting in the city was interesting too, I haven't been in there very often in the last decade. I found it strange to walk past a Japanese fast food burger chain (Mos Burger) and find people all around me eating "sushi rolls". I guess in that environment, it wasn't so strange to sit at a cafe talking in a mixture of English and Japanese. 

On the way back to the train station I walked into a purportedly "Asian" grocery store, but found almost nothing Japanese. I think it was mostly Korean food, so I walked out again.

The rest of the day was spent riding home on the train, buying a couple of extra things from the grocery store at our home station, fending off a charity looking for donations and all my personal details, and getting dinner on the table.

Such is the day of a missionary on home assignment, in case you were wondering what we do between "ministry".

Now I'd better go and iron my summer kimono and work on my origami skills in preparation for the weekend...

25 August, 2014

I need wings

I'm feeling pretty wrung-out after our crazy social weekend. 

Friday night
We had several friends over for dinner (bring and share, thankfully).
All barring one family who visited with us on Friday
We took the boys to wrestling and had a late lunch with friends at their house. We got home at about 4.30.

David preached at our home church then we drove 3/4 hr west to meet some dear friends and their six kids for a picnic lunch. We didn't get home until after 5pm.
The Apex Park at Gatton where we enjoyed several
lovely hours of fun and conversation.
Throughout this David's mum was with us and there was a bit of family drama thrown in with a cousin of David's being flown to Brisbane for emergency surgery.

It doesn't sound like a lot, but I'm sure tired now. I wonder how long it will take of us being in Australia until we stop feeling fairly perpetually tired?

But on the other hand, how can I complain? We're so blessed with so many friends who love us and want to see us.

I've mentioned one of our sons having trouble making friends, I've realised that another of our boys has a struggle that probably isn't going to be fixed until we get back to Japan. 

He's a home bod. A boy who's longing for routine and long unplanned days at home on weekends. Unfortunately routine isn't much a part of home assignment (aside from school) and weekends are when we catch up with friends and family who've not seen us for a long time or do formal ministry. As it stands now, we're booked up early November. Most weekend is full of the above types of activities.

So, looking ahead: this weekend we're going to Sydney for OMF National Conference, the next one we're visiting a church overnight an hour away, the weekend after that is one much like we've just had. And on it goes, until we head off for a camping holiday in the fourth week of September. Even that involves deputation at a church!

Definitely praying for "wings like eagles":
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; ...Isaiah 40:28-31 NIVUK

23 August, 2014

Care package from Japan

After an attempt earlier this month to make onigiri (Japanese rice balls) for my family, I asked for help from my best Japanese friend. 
Part of the label on our care package.

The thing is that making onigiri is to a Japanese woman, like making sandwiches is to an Australian. They do it easily and often. But I never do, because you can buy them very cheaply in many places. But the "sushi" you buy in Australia is not only expensive but it's not "real" Japanese food. The rice to filling ratio is too low and most of the fillings you'd never see in Japan. So, for economy sake, and for the sake 

My Japanese friend responded to my email with some good advice, but also asked if I'd like some special ingredients to add that she could post to me. So the other day I received a care package from Japan! Is that how you know that you've flipped over to the other side? To being at least part-Japanese?

Then yesterday we had some special friends over, friends who are a part of a group called our homeside support team.  They help us out with practical things, like this international move. We also ask them for wisdom on a variety of things (like the home church issue we encountered last year). When we're at home we try to meet with them once every month or two. They're a great support to us!
This bowl was full before our boys got to it prior to going out
to Kids Club and Youth Group last night.

Anyway, we hosted a bring-and-share meal with them last night and I made onigiri. Before everyone arrived, however, we gave our boys a taste test before taking them to our church's Kids Club and Youth Group. They loved the onigiri, so I knew I was onto a good thing because they don't hesitate to critique the food I make and they know Japanese-style onigiri.

Our visitors also seemed to enjoy it, I know our young visitors did. So I'm feeling pleased.

So, thank you Tako-chan for your care package and good advice. We're looking forward to many more home-made onigiri.

22 August, 2014

Too Much Running?

A few days ago I had to run away to hide. I think I got over-peopled over the weekend and then we've had a houseguest this week. On top of that was the knowledge that the coming days and weekend would be full of people. Then a phone call from friends who wanted to get together with us this weekend. It nearly sent me over the edge.

The introvert part of me just screamed out for some time alone to recharge. I ran to my room (not literally) and "hid". Resting on the bed, I read, played games on my phone and did little interacting for a couple of hours. I came out much refreshed.

A few weeks ago I read this article about resting. At the time it didn't seem possible that we could stop running in the near future. Probably we've been running partially on adrenaline. So this week was probably just waiting to happen, I'd been able to stave off exhaustion because we've had pretty quiet weeks at home with the boys at school. But ask my husband and he'll tell you I've been pretty driven in those hours the boys have been away. Somehow I haven't been able to justify stopping to rest.

Here's an excerpt from the above mentioned article:
Oh, How We Run
And then I joined the “overseas worker club” and I realized, WE’RE ALL RUNNING. Oh, how we run. We run to get here. We run to learn language. We run to get stats and photos that we can e-mail back to our senders. And when we return to our passport countries for a furlough, we run even faster! So much of overseas work seems to involve running and running and trying and striving.
Yep, that's us. When we first "ran" to the field, I was amazed at how little time missionaries had for us newbies. We were largely ignored (that's changed these days, we're told, at least within our mission). Everyone is so busy and so focused on ministry to Japanese that they don't have time for other missionaries. I'm thankful that I've landed in Tokyo in a multi-mission environment that is a little more balanced and have developed some wonderful friends who do make the time for me when I need it.

But it isn't just time for others, it's time for ourselves that needs to be set aside.

On the field David and I live different lives to many in ministry, in that our work is mostly Monday to Friday, during the day. Our work in Australia is quite different to that. Our work is often on weekends, public holidays, and nights. We have a lot of free day-time because our boys are at school. But because I'm used to working at the times the boys are at school I still feel a bit driven to use those times for work here. But as David reminded me the other day, if we're going to work on weekends, we need to take time at other times to rest.

This is also a feature of scripture. I don't have time right now to write much about it, but there is an awful lot about resting in the Bible, right from God resting on the sixth day of creation, through Psalms (see 91:1) through to familiar Matthew 11:28 when Jesus said, "‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

So, you won't mind me telling you that for the last couple of days I've taken a rest on the bed after lunch (not sleeping). I'm feeling a bit recharged and ready for a people-filled weekend. I hope I'll make it to Monday okay.

What do you do to rest? My best rest is a lie down with a book, but playing games like Spider Solitare, Scrabble, and Sudoku are also restful. This week I've also pulled out my two cross-stitch projects that have been packed up since a few weeks before we left Japan. My resolve is to get going on these again. 

I wrote a bit about the challenge of getting a rest-work balance in here and stress factors in our lifestyle here. Now I need to apply these things to our lives in Australia where there is much more pressure to do social things in our free time with friends and family who want to catch up with us.

21 August, 2014

Queensland: a beautiful place to be outdoors

How do you know you're in a Queensland school?

Here are a couple of clues from our boys' school:

Outdoor port racks

Outdoor covered play areas

Just generally outdoors, really. This climate in Queensland I could really get used to again. Our experience of Japan is that there are so many days of the year where it just isn't nice to be outdoors. It's either too hot and muggy, or too cold, or too wet, or too windy. 

There was a tourism phrase some time back about Queensland calling it "Beautiful one day, gorgeous the next." I can testify to this being an accurate statement. There aren't too many days when you don't feel like being outside. 

And before the Queenslanders protest, just sit a moment and remember that there are many worse places in the world to live. You don't know what a good deal you've got here!

The eastern sky as the sun set on Tuesday, viewed from outside
our local library (which has awesome views, by the way,
being set in the middle of a park and sports ovals).
A typical Brisbane sky in winter (and summer?) viewed over
our roof from the backyard.
Today is 23C and 41% humidity. Wonderful!
I'm so thankful for the opportunity to come back here every now and then, and try hard not to be too homesick for the climate when I'm gone.

20 August, 2014

Depression and missionary kids

Parenting is a tough gig. Parenting in the context of living our kind of lifestyle is even trickier. 

Some kids thrive. Others struggle. 

I came across an article yesterday that resonates with some of what we're seeing just now, particularly in those of our boys who are introverted. 

Here's a particularly good quote from the article: 

Besides the layers of unresolved grief, the TCK may be experiencing depression due to their feelings of isolation in their current situation and struggling in forming meaningful relationships in their current environment. They may not have the emotional energy to walk through the process of making friends and small talk, but yet they long for a more in-depth relationship with someone within their community.

The advice given is that the best thing to do is listen to them talk about their losses (without judgement). It doesn't actually take too much to get them to do that at present, if an interested person comes along and asks the right questions. But usually interested people lose interest pretty quickly. 

How we facilitate our biggest boy to make new relationships when he's clearly mourning the temporary loss of friendships in Japan, I'm not sure. But the school is trying to help and we're praying. And we know others are too. 

19 August, 2014

Christmas in August?

Yesterday it seemed that it was unexpectedly Christmas in August at our house. 

Internet connection
We'd had this "internet connectivity" issue that we'd been waiting to be fixed ever since we arrived in this house six weeks ago. In fact we'd been working on getting connected for some time before that, but it just seemed to be one disappointment after another. So, for the last six weeks we've been functioning with a mobile dongle in an area of poor receptivity. 

Through that, though, we were learning a good deal of patience and adaptability. We were working on nice days outside on our patio, which was the only area near our house where we could get reliable internet. 

The latest as far as we knew, was that we had an appointment on the 17th of September. We'd pretty much resigned ourselves to many more weeks of mobile dongle inconvenience.

Yesterday, though, David unexpectedly had a phone call while I was riding with the boys to school, which went something like this:

"Hi, I'm from NBN. Sorry I've been away on holidays, can I come around and see what needs doing?"

It turns out he and another worker came around and did everything we needed to connect up to the national broadband and hey presto, we've got internet everywhere in our house!

The internet arriving marks the last of our "big" things to do for settling here in Australia, so it is a relief to have that completed. 

New computer
At the same time as they were working on connecting us up to national broadband, David was having a second go at transferring all our data to our new computer that arrived last Thursday afternoon. Our first attempt, on Friday and Saturday, had failed after hours of trying.

Yesterday, though, in under two hours our new computer was up and running and I'm typing on it now. After more than a year of sluggish, sometimes unreliable or quirky computer issues, I now have one that is working fast and reliably. It's delightful!

New book

That's my hand!
During all the above exciting events, I was shopping for weekly groceries. As I loaded supplies into our green van I received an anonymous text:

"The books have arrived."

After a bit of back and fro texting, I figured out that the 31 Days of Prayer for Japan books had finally arrived in Brisbane. Our state director brought 50 copies to our door later that afternoon, so I now have them in my hands! I'm going to have fun promoting these. Message me if you'd like one. They are AUD$4 (plus $1.40 postage within Australia).
Inside the booklet.
I wrote the article on the righthand page and one other page. The rest
of it I edited closely, with the help of other people.

So excited about these, but also so tired. The weekend was big (Sunday we had our first deputation appointment at a church), and Monday's are always big with wrestling/gym/mobile dinner happening after school and into the evening. On top of that we have a family member visiting for a week. It's a joy to have her, but I do admit to being tired.

It's four and a half weeks until we go on two weeks holiday: camping and visiting family. In that time we have quite a bit to do, including a big national conference for our mission next weekend (29-31). We'll be very ready for a rest by time our holidays come.

18 August, 2014

Culture shock on trains

I caught a train to the women's conference on Saturday. It was a shocking experience.
  1. First shock: no signs at our local station. I'm so used to thousands of signs at every train station in Tokyo (yes, I exaggerate, but only a little).
  2. Second shock: announcements. I was a few minutes early so I sat and read a book. With no warning a freight train rumbled past. No warning at all! Then a tiny little voice came over the loud speaker. I presume it announced my train, because it came soon afterwards, but no words could have been understood by anyone.
  3. Third shock: the doors didn't open. All the doors on the train open in Tokyo, always. In Brisbane you have to press a button to get on or off. It took me a moment to figure that out.
  4. Fourth shock: very few people on a train. It's not that this doesn't happen in Tokyo, especially if you're riding in the middle of the day, but it was still a little too quiet.
  5. Fifth shock: understanding almost all the interactions going on around me (English!). I heard this little snippet as I walked past a mum and her young adult son: "Dale, you can't drink with those tablets you're on!" Hmmm. Not sure I've missed out on much...
    Couldn't help but think these seats waste
    a lot of space! They must be a nightmare
    to keep clean too, especially if people
    regularly put their feet on them.
  6. Sixth shock: no doors between carriages. In Japan there are doors between carriages, here you just walk straight through. 
  7. Seventh shock: shod feet on seats. This is taboo in Japan, anywhere, including trains. Seeing kids with their feet propped on seats with shoes on brought my Japanese side out!
  8. Eighth shock: loud voices. A mum was on the train at the other end of the carriage with her four young children and I could hear almost everything she said. Her parenting style was frightening in itself, but the bigger shock was that they pretty much acted as if they were at home (except when the youngest announced she wanted to go to the toilet and the mum loudly ordered the older sister to put a nappy on her sister because there was no toilet on the train).
  9. Ninth shock: seats that took up most of the carriage. In Japan most carriages have seats only along the side facing in. Here, most seats face forward or back. You can fit many less people in the train when seats are configured that way.
The above all happened within the first ten minutes of my re-encounter with Brisbane trains. This last one happened on my way home in the afternoon:

Tenth shock
We'd stopped at a station and, as I was reading, I only vaguely remembering one person from our carriage getting off. Next thing I know I there's a lady standing in the open door of the carriage asking urgently if she'd left a bag on her seat. She wasn't talking to anyone in particular, just appealing for community help. After she repeated the question I jumped up and checked and yes, she had left a plastic bag on a seat. I retrieved it for her, but by the time I'd gotten back to her the doors had closed. She still stood in the doorway and was fighting with the doors as they pressed against her! 

Obviously she believed that the train wouldn't take off with her standing in the doorway, I can't think of what might have happened if it had. Eventually someone outside helped her disentangle herself from the closing doors and she walked away. Crazy! 

In Japan you'd get back on the train and get off at the next station. Or, if the doors had already closed, you'd report it and your bag would be returned on the next train. The first option wasn't very appealing, I'm sure, because trains were probably only running once every 30 minutes (or longer).

But I wasn't the only one shocked by this behaviour. The three other people in my vicinity all expressed their amazement at her craziness.

All in all, I'm happy, though, that I could use the train to get to the conference. It would have been difficult if that avenue of transport wasn't available. I keep repeating: "Different, not wrong."

For those of you who are wondering, yes, trains are more expensive here than in Japan. The trip for me on Saturday cost $6.28. A comparable journey in Tokyo would cost about $4.92.

17 August, 2014

Amazing day

Yesterday was amazing on many fronts. My extroverted side was very stimulated and my introvert shadow was challenged. But most of all, my faith was strengthened.

I went to a one day Women's Conference, put on by a local Theological College. It was encouraging to see so many women there, I estimate between 300 and 400.

People to see
I've rarely been to an event where so many people from different eras in my life have been there. At this early point in our home assignment, it is often a shock to see people we haven't seen for ages, especially if they're not following our journey closely. Many know we've been in Japan and often it is like they've seen a ghost when they see us.
An old photo (1998) of me with a
missionary to Korea with OMF who I
knew as a child. I met her at the
conference yesterday and travelled part
of the way  home with her on the train.
She's now retired and living in Brisbane.

On Saturday I saw people I knew in my childhood church (2-17 years of age), a couple of people from the church I attended when I was at uni (17-21 years of age), and some from the church I married into and was sent out to Japan from (24-28 years of age). I saw someone from uni days, and people I've met in mission circles. It was quite a shock for us all! But also a blessing. Some of these ladies I haven't seen for 20 years or more. I might not see them again for a long time, either.

Speakers to listen to
The speaker was a slight shock too. I thought I might get away from hearing American speakers at events like these in Australia, but no, we had an American speaker. But we won't hold that against her. She was good, even if my overstimulated brain had trouble tracking with her for the whole of each of her three ¾ to 1 hr long sessions. She spoke on three different Psalms and I always enjoy a good exposition of a psalm!

Straight after lunch we also got to go to a topical "session", one of four we could choose from. I chose the "Self esteem" session, mostly because none of the others were particularly relevant or attractive to me. It was great and probably the best "take away" of the day for me. The speaker (and Aussie) challenged us to get away from our natural "me focused" thoughts and deliberately put on "God focused" thoughts. I even put it into practise this morning as I was thinking about what to wear to church and how often I feel dowdy.

But the best part was at the end
Though I knew a few people, I wasn't particularly "attached" to any one person. I went into the session after lunch and sat in a rather random spot, edging past someone I didn't know to sit several seats in from the aisle. During the opening prayer someone else I didn't know sat next to me. Later we had to do a couple of different activities with the people we were sitting next to, so I got to talk to these two ladies. The one next to me, I noticed, had a Japanese name. 

After the session I asked her if she had a Japanese background. She almost exploded, "I am Japanese!" I explained that I've been living in Japan for a while. The other lady took notice of our conversation and said she had a Christian Japanese lady living with her family at the moment. Well, the conversation quickly got curtailed because the programme up the front still had more to go.

After it was all over we began to talk again. The Australian went hunting for her boarder who was also present. Soon we were exchanging phone numbers and mixing up our Japanese and English. We even found several mutual friends between us!

You see, a couple of months ago as I said goodbye to my language exchange friends in Tokyo, I had the idea that it would be great to find some Japanese ladies in Brisbane to do language exchange for the year. I didn't have the slightest idea of how that would happen, but I prayed a couple of times back then that God might bring it about if it was His will. 

I've barely thought about it since.

So, I walked away from yesterday with the numbers of two Japanese ladies who are keen to meet to do language exchange and be friends. Wow! It blew me away. 

15 August, 2014

Bad English nostalgia

I was going through some old photos on my Japanese mobile and found a couple of gems. Check these products, found in a ¥100 shop:
Wouldn't "multipurpose gloves for either hand" be better?

Sorry, didn't take the best photo here, but there's enough to marvel at how English can be used in the hands of those who don't have it as their native language. Plenty of reasons for me to be very cautious before I publish anything I've written in Japanese!

14 August, 2014

Mixed emotions

After yesterday's busy high, I've got mixed emotions today, it probably goes well with the weather that has alternated between sunny and gloomy. We apparently have a bundle of rain coming (which is good for this drought ridden land), but it's taking its time.

One thing is weighing heavily on my heart is a teenager who is having trouble adjusting to school. He misses his friends and familiar school terribly, and is struggling to make the change. I'm doing what I can to help, but I just want to fix it, to shield him from the pain. But I know I can't and ultimately he needs to learn how to cope in new situations. But it tugs on my mother's heart.

Another piece of bad news is that four out of the five boxes of the 31 Days of Prayer for
Japan that were ordered by OMF Australia appear to have gone missing between Bangkok Airport and OMF's offices in Sydney and Brisbane. We're still hoping and praying that the missing boxes will turn up. It seemed too good to be true that I would have the privilege of being able to report back to churches about what we've been up to the last four years with something in my hand that I've actually helped produce. It will probably still happen, but not as fast as I'd hoped.

The good news is that David's certificate for his Masters has arrived in the mail. Yay!

Aside from that it's been a quiet day as we've wrestled with planning for speaking opportunities and continued in preparing our materials for those (I'm about to go and sew some laminated labels onto hats).

13 August, 2014

A great day

Today was a full day. At 9am we took off for an all morning OMF prayer meeting, with two of the boys in tow. It was a public holiday for the Brisbane Exhibition (and I don't know what the equivalent of that is for my international readers). We left our 15 y.o. at home to work on an assignment.

Anna, who was my matron of honour nearly 17 years ago.
This was more than your regular prayer meeting. Many people attending who've seen us go from raw recruits to mission in the late '90s (and even short termers in '93/'94) and who have prayed for us faithfully. Most we haven't seen for more than four years, so there were many hugs and greetings. Much encouragement and many comprehending questions.

Despite only seeing them every four or five years, these kids
still count us as their friends.
I love it! It's almost like they're cousins!
We also had half an hour to speak about our last four years, including time to pray. This was our first official speaking opportunity this home assignment and so it was a good "safe" environment for getting back on the public speaking trail.

After a hurried lunch we dashed home in time to meet a very good friend (my Matron of Honour) and several of her children for a couple of hours fun. Her husband (David's Best Man) is a chaplain in the military and so we are blessed that they are stationed near here during this home assignment. They were nearby during our last home assignment too. In the meantime they were in Darwin, so we are very thankful.
They have four boys, added to our three and you
have quite a crowd, but lots of fun!

It's been great to have a good day after a few emotionally volatile ones. People ask how we're adjusting and it seems to have been going well, but then we've had some down days as a family. So I guess the best I can say is, it is still a little bit of a roller coaster.

12 August, 2014

The joy of number plates

Here's an example of the sort of reading challenge that we face
in Japan. Which one is sugar, which one is salt?
Yes, I know they are really "registration plates", but I've always called them "number plates". You know, the things on the backs and fronts of motorised vehicles with numbers and/or letters on them. They've become quite an conversation topic for our boys as we travel around. 

Queensland number plates are generally three numbers and three letters. The combination of letters can be particularly fun. For example, we can be driving along and suddenly from the back seat comes,

The car from which we're doing all this number-plate spotting.
"Oh look, there's QQQ on that yellow car beside us, wow!"

From another boy, "Coming up beside us is a blue DuCK." (DCK, being the actual letters).

Then David says, "Oh, there's a green C. That's an old number plate." (Current number plates are maroon.)

And the we might say to our personalised number plate expert, "I can see a a personalised number plate, reads, 'Mum10'. How much does three numbers and two letters cost?" (He's researched this and knows.)

This really is a small example of the joy our boys have in being able to read everything in Australia. Nothing is immune: signs, nutrition information on the sides of boxes, etc.

I revel with them. Being able to read and understand it all (or most of it) is an amazing thing, and not something to be taken for granted.

11 August, 2014

Re-entry shock at the hairdresser

I got a haircut this morning, in English. Wow, I didn't realise how comfortable I'd become with doing it in Japanese. I fumbled around in English trying to answer the hairdresser's questions. It is more than three years since I had my hair cut short and it is only the second time I've had it cut in Australia. I simply wasn't sure what to say.

Despite the challenges, I'm pretty happy with
the result.
Never mind we got through. But here were some cultural differences:

Having my hair washed was painful, my legs were too short so hung awkwardly out there, additionally the chair seemed too low for the basin, so the basin dug into my neck too.

In Japan the chairs they use (at my hairdresser, anyway), are like dentist chairs, they go up and lay you back, so comfortable you can almost go to sleep. Additionally they cover your face, so you can close your eyes. They also frequently ask you if the water temperature is okay. I was never asked, I guess I was supposed to be assertive in my opinion? (The water temperature wasn't a problem, by the way.)

Japanese hairdressers are very conservative, when you ask for five centimetres off, they are likely to cut only three. Today when I asked for the front section of my hair to be shorter, she had no hesitation in jumping in and doing so. In Japan I might have had to send them back two or three times to get the same amount cut off.

In Japan they usually finish a haircut by blowdrying my hair completely straight and with no volume. Today I was asked what kind of final result I'd like.

Oh, and I got to read and English-language magazine (surprise, surprise). I have in the last year begun taking a book or my kindle to the hairdresser in Japan, it saves me stressing over the how the haircut is going and how I'm going to ask them to fix it.

10 August, 2014


Home is a difficult concept for people like us. As I noted in a previous post, we don't use it about a country.

I was talking this morning to an older lady whose been living on and off in China over the last 10 years with her theological lecturer husband. They're not sure where to settle after this phase of their life is over.  She listed off several factors they are considering: 
  • Apartment vs small house.
  • This town or that. 
  • Near family or friends.
  • Country town or city. 
  • This state or the one just south.

They're not even sure if this phase of travelling between the two countries is over yet.
The truth is that what you call "settled" and "home" gets messed around when you move around a bit. Even more when you spend enough time to put down roots in more than one location.

We've just spent the weekend at my parents' house in the town I spent the first 17 years of my life. For a long time I called that town home.
View from "home" an hour or so after we arrived.

Even though we wanted to visit my family, it was hard to pack up and go there on Friday. But we had a good time and we've come back feeling relaxed and rested. The surprise we got when we came back to our house is an overwhelming sense of coming home.

It makes sense, though,  and it makes me happy.  We've spent the last month or so getting ourselves settled here.

Particularly we paid attention to getting the boys as settled as we could. Seems like it has worked. We have managed to successfully create a homebase, a place to call home for this year. It makes me happy because that will make the year easier on us all.

09 August, 2014

Culture shock in clothing

This US blogger serving in Djibouti continued with her series about culture shock by talking about clothing: http://www.djiboutijones.com/2014/08/culture-shock-in-pictures-clothing/ (I linked to her post about grocery shopping here).

Our experience, again, isn't as extreme, but we are shocked at some things.

When we come back to Australia we are always shocked at how much skin we can see. On our first home assignment short shirts were in fashion (lots of muffin tops!). Our second HA found maxi dresses with lots of cleavage showing. On our third HA we haven't hit summer yet, but still there is lots of skin. Tight shirts and short shorts on people who shouldn't really be wearing those things.

Japan is generally more modest than Australia and we like that. As you can guess—less skin, rarely a plunging neckline, or a naked waist. Shorts have gotten shorter, but mostly for young women. Men occasionally wear shorts now, but it is still not easy to find shorts for men in the shops. At the Curves gyms you aren't allowed to wear tank tops or pants above the knee. It is shocking to see what Australians exercise in!

This is something I never want to get used to in Australia, but that is another topic altogether.

School uniforms
Our front entrance in Japan. It's easy to find your shoes,
they're all here.
Of course a big personal shock for the boys has been school uniforms. In Japan at an American-style international school they don't have uniforms. In Australia it's school uniforms. 

The other day we went to a shopping centre straight after school and the boys were shocked: people might see us in our uniforms. They were interested to see how many other children were there in uniform too!

Our eldest son is learning a bit more about ironing. He has to iron his school shirts, and he's doing a good job.

They're getting used to the uniforms. We haven't heard many complaints recently. Nonetheless our eldest is very much looking forward to "free dress day" next Friday.

Another clothing shock is shoes. We're simply not used to wearing shoes inside. Our house in Japan has one main entry where all our shoes are kept. Our house in Brisbane has three entry/exit points. We keep our shoes at one, but what happens when you want to go out the other? It gets complicated. 

We're trying to adjust and assure visitors that it is okay if they wear their shoes in our house, even if we don't. But I'm not yet comfortable with kids running in and out, trekking dirt, leaves, grass etc. through my house.

08 August, 2014

Behind-the-scenes: food management

Shifting a family between countries (or even moving house within a country) requires a lot of work, as many of you know. In the crucible of the change, many take-away meals are bought. But on a missionary budget that can't continue very long. Very quickly after we arrived in Australia, I needed to move into cooking and baking mode.

One of the things I enjoy about being a household manager is not the housework, but the management of the food going through the place. That includes planning meals (don't get me wrong, it isn't a complex meal plan, merely what simple main course we'll eat for dinner), making grocery lists, buying the groceries, and cooking the food.

Potato soup: a favourite recipe
(at least for some of the family)
Over the years like most people, I've collected a bundle of recipes that are easy enough (don't take too long and don't have too many ingredients), and liked by most family members. This time, instead of carting all my recipe books back to Australia with me, I scanned them. Now I'm printing out the scans and making up my "new" Australian recipe books made up of mostly familiar recipes. Intermingled with those are meals that the boys aren't so familiar with, because I can get different meat here at a reasonable price, like lamb chops and corned beef. That's been fun!

One of the big challenges of the year, though is providing mobile meals, as I mentioned here on Monday. Often we're not going to be home at meal-times, especially on weekends. Already that is the case on Monday nights and Saturday lunches, due to wrestling training. But as we start to travel around more visiting groups for deputation, that need for mobile meals is going to increase. So far we've had meat on bread rolls, hot dogs, wraps and salads. I'm working on a plan to give them rice balls or meat on rice.

Providing food for the family goes past main meals, of course. So providing home baked snacks is also something I pay a reasonable amount of attention too. It is something I enjoy, so that's a nice combination. It cheaper and healthier to eat snacks made at home too, so these add to my motivation to bake.

Soon after we arrived back in Australia I picked up a magazine that had a small "free" chocolate recipe book attached to it. So I've made it a personal fun challenge to see how many of the recipes in that book that I can make over the year, seeing as most of the ingredients are easily available here (something I struggle with in Australia).

So, that's just a little bit of a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life in this missionary family's life on home assignment.

07 August, 2014

Culture shock–grocery shopping

It is common for missionaries to talk about the re-entry culture shock of grocery shopping. Japan to Australia isn't as bad as from a country like the Philippines. Check out this missionary's photo comparisons:
This is one of the stores I regularly shop at in Japan. There
are usually more bikes than cars in the "car"park.

Our experience isn't quite as stark, but it still is a challenge. To go from almost no choice on some things to large amounts of choice is hard. 

What makes it harder is that you actually "want it all". When we're in Japan there is food we miss. There is food we dream about. Choices we wish we had. Then, all of a sudden, we are presented with all the possibilities of our dreams. It is tempting to buy it all.

Then there is the financial challenge on a couple of fronts.
1. We're used to how much things cost in Japan, especially most groceries. We know what a good deal is and when something is too dear. We don't know that anymore in Australia. Not only are we not used to dealing with Australian currency any more, prices have changed while we were away. It is no longer clear what is a good price.
There are four aisles this long, way smaller than
a large supermarket in Australia. But then, they
don't stock everything I want. But they do have all
the regular things I need, so I'm happy.
The shopping trolleys are small too.

2. There are a lot of set-up costs involved in moving country. We had a lot of help  in setting up the large items in our house, and I mean stacks, to the point that we now have two microwaves, two vacuum cleaners, three printers, and seven mattresses in our house. Despite this we found ourselves reeling a little under the various other things that we needed to purchase, including school uniforms and books. Setting up the pantry has been an expensive deal too, even though I'm a cautious buyer. It's been important to me, because I know that a well set-up pantry will save us money in the long run. This is especially as I look at prices for take-away and restaurant meals in Australia and realise that feeding my hungry family of boys will really eat into our budget, if we rely on take-away meals too often.

Some people suggested early on that to deal with the stress of grocery stores I should go to smaller ones with less choice. Unfortunately those smaller stores are usually more expensive, which would have exacerbated the financial stress I was already feeling.

I'm not writing this to complain. We have enough. We have a lot more than some people in this country! I am very thankful. But I'm writing this as a portion of what my lengthy answer would be to the question: "How are you settling?"

06 August, 2014

Sort your rubbish?

Today has been more planning for presentations. Boring stuff to write about on a blog, really!
Rubbish collection station around the corner from
our house in Tokyo.

The fun thing was talked about over lunch, however, was an idea we've had for some time but haven't had time to put it into action. Aside from talking in front of groups of people in formal-type situations, sometimes we get the opportunity to do some more interactive things with groups. These are so much fun! In the past we've done slipper relays, chopsticks challenges, origami, a Japanese receipt game, and a language learning activity. 

This time we want to do a Rubbish Sorting Game. Sorting the rubbish in Japan is complex but a game based on this has the potential to make a fun activity to give people a feeling of culture shock. It's just that there are so many ways we could do it. We've been bandying around ideas for months now, but not gotten very far.

We talked in more detail over lunch about it today, though, and David's actually written some things down. Perhaps we'll make some progress on this soon?

It certainly takes our mind off the internet troubles that we continue to experience. Today we were supposed to have someone come, supposedly to "connect us up", but it didn't happen. The "outside team" that would make sure there was a connection that came from the street (as far as I understand it) didn't show up so the technician that did had nothing to connect up to. 

And so we continue to wait. But we're not in too bad a way, as long as we can continue to use this mobile internet out the back in our "patio office" it works pretty well and decreases the incentive to work at night-time when it's coolish out here.