Monday, October 24, 2016

I want NOTHING for Christmas.

tiny disclaimer:  this isn’t really a blog post for the world at large, it’s more for my inner circle of people, who I hope do not take this as a personal offense or me lacking gratitude, because by golly that is 100% never my intention. In fact, I think I got into this specifically because I’m too intent on not offending to be able to protect my own interests in not being buried in stuff.  So there’s that.  Read on!

I finally snapped, and today I spent 7 hours decluttering our tiny apartment.

It’s been a long time coming (like at least 6 months I’ve been telling myself “tomorrow I’ll go through this place and reorganize”).  Because Japan is tiny, but we live like big Americans.  But also because I am terrified of taking out our trash.  So we had a lot of old and used up stuff taking up space in our home.  

I’ve talked about trash in Japan before; it’s a well-oiled system that takes a bit [<-understatement] of getting used to.  We sort all types of trash, and each kind goes out on a specific day at a specific time.  Combustibles, glass, plastic bottles, paper, styrofoam, soda cans, food cans, electronics, spray containers and more all get their own trash bag.  Any deviance from this culture-wide plan is irresponsible and will lead to shame, scrutiny, and mumbles of “inconsiderate gaijin* from your community.”  

It is admirable how well Japan handles their trash.  There are even villages in this country that have a ZERO trash output because of how well they sort and recycle their waste.  I truly wish that Americans were brought up with such sensibilities.  But I didn’t, and that, combined with a ridiculous level of anxiety stemming from just making sure people don’t hate me here**, means I will do my very best to stall the trash bag being full with a time The Mister is home and in a “I want to do something nice for my wife” mode.  He is blessed with an ability to turn off the “give a sh*t what others think about me” section of his mind, and when it comes to trash, he is so kind as to let me capitalize on that while I sheepishly hand him bags of garbage to lug downstairs.

And so back to this declutter project.  I got rid of expired condiments in the fridge.  I went through my shoes and threw out the ones which had holes walked through the soles (a surprising number, thanks for all the exercise, Japan!).  I sorted out the dog toys that Mac’s loved a little too much.  I consolidated the three bottles of the same scent lotion I had all at differing levels of full/empty.  And I re-organized our cabinets so our dishes all fit inside them.  

Then I sat down with the piles of trash that comes from all this organization, and I sorted all of said trash into 13 different 45 gallon trash bags.  Which were then relegated to the balcony until they can be taken to the trash collection area outside our apartment at the appropriate times***. 

how to sort trash in the city.  this is printed poster size on our fridge, and even after a year+, 
I still have to double check it once a day.

I… Hate.  Hate with a passion.  Hate taking out the trash.  Hate it hate it hate it.  I have reasons even.

The first is my fear of my neighbors seeing me hauling a bag out and reporting to the apartment management that I’ve done it wrong.  We’ve even had other expat acquaintances here tell us about neighbors tearing open their trash and interrupting them while entertaining guests to angrily explain how disgusting the expat was for doing it wrong and then handing back the trash that had been improperly sorted.  

Second, I hate the smell.  I hate having to sit in a tiny elevator for an agonizingly slow 11 floor ride with the smell of my trash.  The tiny space traps in that scent which triggers your gag reflex, and really lets it sink into your pores.  Plus it certainly doesn’t air out by the time you’ve put your trash at the collection space and re-boarded the elevator to go back up to home.  This is especially notable as generally speaking our burnable trash includes… well the sort of trash that Mac makes.  By eating and digesting.  You see where I’m going with this.  Dog poo fumes in my lungsssssss.

And third - all trash bags are clear here.  Which I have decided is to strictly enforce proper trash sorting by allowing your neighbors to see your trash and see if you put it in the correctly marked bags.  It also means your neighbors can see that you ordered large pizzas.  They can see what brand of ginger ale you drink.  They can see if you’ve had the sniffles and worked through a box of nyquil.  They can see EVERYTHING you throw out, is what i’m saying, and they can learn a lot about your life.  Japan’s already enough of a “Big Brother is watching” type of society for me thank you very much.

It occurs to me, with the amount of unneeded junk we accumulate at a fairly steady rate between me, The Mister, Mac and Bubba, that this aversion to taking out the trash will turn me into one of those off-the-deep-end hoarders who shout at kids to stay off their lawn.  The kind of person who talks about “going off the grid” with absolute sincerity.  The one who insists they can fix anything that breaks with just some duct-tape and string… no need to throw it out.  Just put it in the corner with all the other broken things I’ll get to some day never.

why yes, I *did* build Bubba a Kitty Castle out of cardboard specifically so
I wouldn't have to take out a bag of cardboard trash.

It’s a realization which bugs me, because The Mister and I, we have everything we need, and certainly we have plenty that we just wanted.  We’re not hurtin’ for stuff.  Whenever a friend or family member asks us what we’re missing from home, we can both pretty confidently say “nothing!  we’re doing well!” And so I’m just gonna throw this out in the cosmos:  

Please don’t send me stuff.  

I don’t want stuff.  I don’t need stuff.  I’m not missing stuff.  And I really really don’t want to have to throw other stuff out to make room for the stuff sent to me.  I say this because Christmas is just around the corner (yikes.) and though I was straightforward in saying “I don’t want anything for my birthday” back in August, there are still things here that came with “happy birthday” notes attached.  Please be clear!  Thank you!  I’m grateful for the thought and love that went into these gifts.  Really, and truly.  But.  And this is a big but (ha, see what I did there?).  I would be most grateful to not have to figure out what to do with more stuff.

If you’re reading this and something in you insists that not giving a gift for Christmas is somehow against the will of Sweet Baby Jesus and will cause him to rain down Fire and Brimstone and maybe even those stink bombs that smell like rotten eggs, here is my suggestion: 

I love my Alma Matter****

These places and people could use stuff.  Green, paper-like stuff.
The could also use your time.  Your peanut butter.  Old towels.  Dog or Cat food.  Gently used books.  And they would put it all to WAY better use than anything you might have thought about sending to me.  So give where it counts, including helping me avoid taking out the trash. :)

Do you live abroad?  
How do manage the amount of stuff you accumulate?  
What causes do you support?  Tell me in the comments!

today's little language lesson
inu no unchi wa nioii ga totemo warui desu
dog poo smells very bad.

*gaijin (or 外人): a slightly rude term for a foreigner.

**Our neighbors already hate us.  Not ALL our neighbors, just the old couple that live next door.  They have a reason, but sadly we didn’t even really earn it (I say that because if someone is gonna go ahead and hate me, it’s a little better for my peace of mind if I know I am responsible for turning the screws of my own volition, you know?).  This is a story for another time.  The moral of said story is that I don’t need to give anyone in this building more reasons to hate us.  Or me, specifically.

***The Mister threw himself on this sword. Amazing isn't a big enough word for this simple act of love.  

**** Happy 10 year homecoming to my fellow class of '06 Green Knights.  And thank you for video-chatting me while you celebrated so I could pretend I wasn't half a world away from the fun!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Foreigner at a Craft Bazaar - Year 2!

First and foremost- A big old thank you to everyone who supported and came to visit me last Friday at the Nagoya YWCA Fall Bazaar.  I had a great time AND I managed to come through with a decent profit.  I hope you enjoyed your cake pops!

After wrapping on the bazaar and lugging my set-up back home, I immediately hopped on a bullet train out to the Navy Base with The Mister to attend a ball celebrating our anniversary (actually the US Navy’s 241st birthday, though we’re good at pretending)... but that might be for next post.  

Back to that Bazaar.  I had a lovely spot at the back of the main entertainment area, which meant that while peddling my wares I got to watch a few acts.  I also got a fantastic vantage point for people watching.  So in the spirit of my bazaar reporting from last year, let’s talk about 

The People Foreigners See at a Craft Bazaar Part Deaux 二

1.  Stamp Collectors
It’s not uncommon in Japan for events to promote the collection of stamps.  A person who manages to get all the stamps in any particular collection can be entered to win prizes.  At this bazaar, each selling area had a stamp which visitors could collect in order to, I believe, be awarded a free pen.  That morning, the very first people I saw enter my area (where I was sitting next to the stamp station), were two nuns in full habits, who came in, excitedly stamped their flyers, giggled, and immediately turned on their heels to find the rest of the stamps throughout the event.  Since I never saw them again, I hope they got their pens… and I hope those pens were worth the 500yen entry fee they would have paid to enter the bazaar and presumably buy and participate in nothing else. 

2.  The Children’s Entertainment
As the stage area was directly in front of my table space, I was elated to watch the children’s entertainment at the bazaar.  A fun, colorful duo lead all the little kids at the bazaar in songs about frogs and snakes (with puppets!), the Totoro theme, and my personal fave, a song about a farting cow, which featured a man in a cow costume playing a kazoo and cow bell while pretending to fart real loud.  This number was an obvious crowd pleaser.  And honestly, I really loved how easy it was to understand what was going on in their show because obviously they were using real simple baby Japanese.  

3.   The Seller of Questionable Health
The booth right next to mine was a jeweler.  Selling not just any jewelry, like, NICE jewelry.  Real Minato Pearls, precious gems, gold and silver, you get the point.  But maybe once every 15 minutes the jewler (who was super kind, if not a quiet fellow) would duck out of the room, leaving all his wares unattended.  Thankfully, because this is Japan, there is no actual concern for his wares being knicked.  I was, however, concerned that this man’s frequent potty breaks were signifiers of a real danger in his prostate.  I said as much to KP2 (who was so kind as to hang out at my booth and help peddle cupcakes), and we had a brief conversation about how to politely share with someone that they need to see a doctor for a very *ahem* personal exam.  Then he mentioned he was going out for a quick smoke and left again.  So we switched our concerns from prostate cancer to lung cancer, as clearly this man had packed a carton of cigarettes to bring along to the bazaar, and he intended to go through them all in that 5 hours.

4. The Looky-Lou of Questionable Motivation.
An older man accompanying his wife to the bazaar took a seat in the back row of the stage area to wait while his lady tried on some jewelry.  He took this fifteen minute time-frame to twist around in his seat to intently stare at me.  The entire 15 minutes.  Just staring.  I couldn’t tell if he was offended by my foreigner presence, or maybe just confused by it, but his facial expression clearly wasn’t one that gave off positive vibes.  It’s not the first time I’ve gotten “gaijin glares,” but I have come to the conclusion that I really need to work on a canned response to being oogled like a zoo animal.

5.  The Lady I Looky-Loued.
She caught me staring, so I didn’t take any pictures, because I was already admittedly being a creeper.  BUT.  There was a seller in my area who had exactly one product and it was brilliant and I watched her demo it at least two dozen times.  She had engineered an Obi belt for Kimono that was an already made bow and sash which one could position and tie themselves without any snaps or clips (if you’ve ever tried to tie an Obi yourself, you understand this is a magical invention).  I sort of wanted one, but I was too embarrassed to ask if she had one for women with a waist bigger than 15 inches, so I just kept to my cake pops.  *le sigh, the joys of being American Sized.*

6.  The Adult's Entertainment
This is a misnomer, but the second musical act which came to the stage was a musical story-teller who played the shamisen and recorder as he told stories about historical Okinawa.  He was well dressed, well spoken, and had a confident swagger that is not super common in Japanese men.  KP2, as she sat next to me, was having a hard time not swooning ad his swept back salt and pepper hair.  And judging by the event organizers needing to bring out extra chairs for the gaggle of obaasans that crowded the space, she was not the only one.  

7.  The Final Act
A troupe of four ladies played us out of the Bazaar.  They all had guitars and sang some very pretty traditional Japanese songs.  A lovely act, all the more endearing because they’re all women who work with the YWCA, and as such, they had a fan base at the bazaar who brought out decorated fans like one might see at a boy-band concert.  They also got a standing ovation and an encore at the end of their set, which they used as an opportunity to play Edelweiss from The Sound of Music.  It was precious.

All and all it was a great time, I’m flattered to have been asked back, and I hope I can make it a three-peat next year.  And in that vein, someone remind me my big lessons from this year’s table, K?
  1. Japanese people do not want Chocolate Chip Cookies (I sold zero! ha!) 
  2. Japanese people TOTALLY do want cake pops.  Make more of those, less of everything else.

Have you been to a Craft Fair / Artists Market like this?  
What was your favorite find?  
Are you a gaijin? 
How do you handle the Gaijin Glare?  
Tell me in the comments!

today’s little language lesson
Hakuchō wa, watashiwomite teishi shimasu

stop looking at me, swan.