Day 2: Time

I woke up this morning and wondered what time it was, so I grabbed my phone off the nightstand, even though there was a clock right next to it, but to see it would have required me to turn my head and that seemed like too much trouble. I knew it was about 7:00 because of the light coming through the window. Also, the second movement of the morning birdsong concerto had begun, so I knew it was well past 6:30.

Getting used to living in this time zone has been harder than I expected. When I lived on the far side of the international date line, I was ahead of most of the world. If I forgot someone’s birthday Stateside, it didn’t matter because they were all a day behind me. But now I’m behind almost the entire world. Only American Samoa (where it’s the same time as the other Samoa but a day earlier–go figure) and Niue are behind me, but I don’t know anybody there so it doesn’t matter if I forget their birthdays.

When clients in Japan give me a deadline, I have to make sure that they’re talking about Tokyo time, not Hawaii time, because Tokyo is 19 hours ahead of us (or six hours ago tomorrow), so if my deadline is Monday at 9:00 a.m. Tokyo time, it’s 3:00 Sunday afternoon for me. And that’s weird. Who ever heard of a Sunday afternoon deadline?

I did find a silver lining, though. Neither Japan nor Hawaii has daylight savings time, so at least the level of confusion is consistent all year. Most of my US people are East Coasters, so the time difference was either 12 or 13 hours, which was confusing enough. Hawaii opted out of DST because we’re so close to the equator that winter and summer are about the same, meaning we can loll around the pool all year. Japan doesn’t have DST because there is concern that its workaholic population will refuse to leave their offices until after sunset. Unfortunately, that means it is sometimes pitch dark by 4:00 in mid-winter. Around mid-January, people start to resemble moles.

This was me in 2016. †††

The six months it took to process the cats and pack up our Tokyo lives so we could move here seemed to drag by like concrete boots nailed to oversized snowshoes, but then suddenly we were here. I told myself I could have six months to get settled and sorted and structured. As of today, we’ve been here ten months and I still don’t have a clue what we’re doing, but I’m starting to feel that’s how it is meant to be. To be honest, I feel like we’re on the world’s longest vacation. To be even more honest, I don’t feel bad about that. At all.

Day 1: Fear

All my life, I have suffered from an irrational fear of lizards. Just a glimpse of one would leave me breathless and quaking and needing to pee. I don’t know why. I don’t remember any childhood lizard-related trauma, like seeing one staring up at me from a bowl of Raisin Bran or dropping onto my head while I played on a seesaw, but these things defy explanation. I also have a fear of long, painted fingernails. This one is not irrational. Read this if you dare. https://mouseintokyo.wordpress.com/?s=fingernails

So when I moved to Hawaii, I knew that I would have to deal with this. It was on my list:

  • Buy a car
  • Figure out how to drive it
  • Get homeowner’s insurance
  • Re-cover the ugly blue chair
  • Learn how to grow papayas
  • Eat a pink hot dog
  • Make peace with lizards

They are everywhere, were here long before I got here, will be here long after I’m gone. So unless I planned to arm myself with smelling salts or live in a bubble, I would have to cope. But I am nothing if not resilient. Each morning as I settled onto my mat for morning yoga, I would feel beady eyes fixed on me and have to force my heart to slow, my breathing to deepen. And it worked. Like so many of life’s little unpleasantries, I found a way to make peace with something I cannot change, should not even mess with. I have even come to see them as kinda cute, as long as they stay out of my Raisin Bran and off my seesaw. The cats have agreed to enforce this policy.

I have a feeling that the Tangerine Tinted Buffoon could learn from this experience.

The Benza

I had a lovely video chat with my dear friend Chris in Tokyo this week. If you have Amazon Prime, please check out The Benza, like it, comment, write a review, be supportive. It’s a collaboration, but Chris’ brainchild and he’s busted his tail to make the series happen and get it noticed, plus it’s very funny, both silly and smart. Bonus: If you look closely, you will see my name in the credits.

While we were talking, Chris asked me what a typical day is like here in paradise and I realized that there’s no such thing. My general rule is yoga and/or power walking on the lanai in the morning but after that Bob’s your uncle. So I have set myself a challenge to write something about some of the extraordinary things that happen here each day this week. Wish me luck!

Jammin’

Facebook reminds me that two years ago today, we went mulberry picking along the Tsurumi River under the brave leadership of the inestimable Rodger Sono.

Well, to be honest, Rochi went mulberry picking. I sat under a tree and rested, but when we got home, I made jam, some of the best jam I have ever tasted.

(Rodger later asked me if I’d taken the time to remove the stems. “Nah. Too much trouble. I just bunged the whole mess into the blender and it came out great.” Trade secret, that.)

Looking back through old Facebook entries trying to find that picture brought back a lot of memories, some nice and some not so nice. It’s funny how we can forget the things we don’t want to remember and focus on the good. At least, I hope that’s where 2017 left me. My PT in Tokyo, Dr. Joey, said he’d seen two types of cancer survivors. Some are bitter and angry and just waiting for recurrence. Others are like me: Let it go. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Not everything is small stuff, but even the big stuff is only as big as you let it be, unless it’s a Mack truck about to run you over. That’s pretty big. But don’t waste your time worrying about Mack trucks either.

I watched an old episode of Cheers last night. A guy asks Coach the classic question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a noise? And Coach asks: If nobody is there to hear it, how do you know it fell?

Precisely. Why worry about something that doesn’t matter?

Yesterday I made jam again, my first since that day in 2017. This time it’s cranberry rhubarb, made with cranberries from a friend who had to empty out her freezer and fresh rhubarb from KTA supermarket, a rare treat I only found once in all my years in Tokyo. I jazzed it up with ginger and lemon zest and cardamom and cloves because it deserved no less.

I didn’t deserve to get cancer any more than I deserved to survive it, but I look at those two photos of jars of jam, different jars, different contents, different kitchen windows; so very different and yet so very much alike. And I look at me and the two years that passed between those two batches of jam and I wonder. Am I the same? Did the pain and strain and stress and damage make me a better person, a stronger person?

I really hope so.

Little Lessons

There were so many birds chirping in the garden today that I felt like I was in an aviary at a zoo, but not the one at the botanical gardens outside Hilo. That one only encloses a couple of sleepy looking parrots. While I’ve never once been threatened by a wild Hawaiian bird, the parrot enclosure was festooned with dire warnings of fingers being bitten off by foolish visitors proffering treats. So I steered clear of the parrots, not my favorite bird anyway. The rest of the gardens were grand and the wild birds provided enough of a chorus to keep us entertained.

We are in a particularly good mood today since what seemed like a medical crisis turned out to be manageable with a minimum of trauma and that’s always a good thing indeed. Which all goes to show you that things tend to work themselves out and will do so whether we worry about them or not. That’s a comforting thought but often easier in principle than practice. But the happy, twittering birds really help put things in perspective.

Lesson 1: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Lesson 2: Don’t take anyone else too seriously.

Lesson 3: Unripe soursop sauteed in coconut oil and spices makes the world a much better place.

Plate Lunch

One cannot survive on papayas and pineapple alone so we have been exploring food options. We’d both been jonesing for teishoku, the standard Japanese meal of rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables and a main dish, usually grilled fish or meat, maybe a small salad. There was a tiny place in our old neighborhood called Take (Bamboo) run by a husband/wife team. It was top class without being expensive. We miss it.

We had been advised that a fine way to feed oneself in this land of high prices and junk food is the plate lunch. In most cases, they take the form of some sort of meat, a scoop of macaroni salad and a scoop or two of rice, all for a reasonable price. Most restaurants offer them but we have found our comfort zone is best served by drive-ins. For one thing, they’re self-service so tipping is optional and tipping drives Rochi nuts. Also, large quantities of rice are always on tap, enough to fill his hollow Asian legs.

Our current favorite is Blane’s Drive Inn. For one thing, it’s on Waianuenue Avenue, which I am now proud to be able to both pronounce and spell. For another, it’s just down the street from the Hilo Public Library, one of the most comfortable I’ve ever seen, an oasis in the middle of…paradise. OK, that’s an oxymoron but it’s still a very nice library.

Blane’s has good sandwiches, burgers, bentos and of course, plate lunches, all at very reasonable prices. The seating is outdoors, covered and reasonably quiet. Rochi is always pleased with fried eggs and Portuguese sausage. The kalua (pulled) pork is bounteous. The grilled cheese is hot and crisp. (I dare you to find a grilled cheese sandwich in Tokyo.) The fries are first rate.

Just don’t expect too much. And don’t expect any vegetables–you don’t go to MacDonald’s and order filet Mignon. The last time we went there, I tried papaya chicken and discovered that you can’t cook papaya; it turns into flavorless globs of watery kindergarten paste. And the miso soup is awful–more watery kindergarten paste, and my teacher told me not to eat that.

So a plate lunch is filling, reasonably priced and pretty close to home cooking. It just isn’t teishoku. No matter how many times you look at a papaya and say ‘banana’, it will still be a papaya. So the lessons learned are 1) the very best food you can possibly have is the food you cook yourself but 2) don’t cook papaya, 3) if you accept things as they are without expectations, you can’t really be disappointed and 4) ice cream can clear away the memory of just about any culinary disaster.

Progress in Pahoa

The construction elves have been hard at work on the new shopping oasis outside of town.* Even so, Pahoa still has vestiges of a cowboy town, aging traces of its sugarcane past. The main street that runs through town has a section of dilapidated wooden sidewalk flanking false front businesses: a couple of restaurants, arts and craft shops, a tattoo parlor, of course. On the outskirts of town, there are abandoned outbuildings lurking among the vines. The heads of rusting machinery watch over the parking lot at Ace Hardware, a local version of dinosaurs unable to find a passage back to the past. All of this lends the town a certain charm, a sense of permanence among an ever-changing population, at the same time an awkward, pimple-faced teenager and a doddering fool.

In 1955, Pahoa was almost destroyed by a fire. Right in the middle of town was a tofu factory that had a wood-fired furnace. The owner usually banked his fires before he went home, but that night, the fire got out of control. It burned all the way to the main alley. Luckily, a papaya farmer who had water loaded on the back of his truck saw what happened and extinguished the fire, saving Pahoa from destruction.

to-hawaii.com

There’s a strong hippie/alternative lifestyle vibe here. I’m pretty sure that many of the folks who were at Woodstock in 1969–and are still alive–landed in this area. It is not uncommon to see bodies adorned with tie-dye and fringe and grey ponytails and beards framing wizened faces at the local market.

All of this lends the town an alluring charm, a sense of permanence within an ever-changing population, at the same time an awkward, pimple-faced teenager and a doddering fool. But with the new mall going in, we have a slight pall of doom hanging over us. Passing through town today, I saw a couple of businesses preparing to close. Signs in front of the development say there will be a Pizza Hut and a MacDonald’s, both places I vow never to enter, but there will also be a Goodwill and a Banzos falafel, both reasons for good cheer. They’ve installed traffic lights between the turnoff for Long’s and the entrance to the mall, just past the traffic circle. This will either prove to be a feat of fine engineering or a monumental disaster.

The development was originally supposed to open at the end of last year, but the lava decided that was a bad idea. We shall see how Madame Pele feels about all of this. As always, she gets the final say-so.

bigislandnow.com

*Disclaimer: To be fair, I’m taking some liberty with the word ‘town’. The population of Pahoa is only 945 souls, so technically it’s a village. When people say they’re going to ‘town’ they mean Hilo (pop. 43,263), which is about half an hour from here, home to the airport, Walmart and Target and several supermarkets. We go there to shop and then, quick as we can, escape back to paradise.