Tuesday, November 10, 2015

49 years ago today....

49 years ago today, one of my most formative events occurred. My family arrived in Tokyo, Japan. What was supposed to be a 2-3 year assignment for my dad, stretched to 5 years in Tokyo plus one additional year in Seoul,Korea. When my father asked told my mom about the job in Japan and asked if she was willing to move, her response was, “when do I start packing?"

I was 6 years old at the time while my mom was 42 years old and never lived any where except Pittsburgh. The farthest she had flown was New Orleans.
Our inaugural trip to Japan(we came back to the States each summer), was a vacation itself. We stopped in Disneyland, which in 1966 had only been opened for about 10 years.
I remember loving “It's a Small World”… My mom and I must have gone through it half a dozen times. Was she trying to reinforce that we were about to begin our own “small world” experience by moving to Asia? On the way over the Pacific, we stopped in Honolulu and fell in love with Hawaii,so much so that we stopped there in both directions on our summer trips home (12 times by the time I was 12). I've made it back to Hawaii 3 times in my adult life, and each of those times, when we landed, and I smelled the unique floral laden air of Hawaii, I experienced an incredible feeling of nostalgia.

And then finally, we landed in Tokyo. In 1966, Tokyo had a population of over 8 million. Oakmont, the town we came from, had less than 8 thousand. We were tall Americans in a sea of Japanese. My brother, being 6'2", stood out so much, we would use him as a meeting point in the department stores. (“Everyone meet at Bill in an hour”). We were used to hopping in our car, or walking to school on tree lined brick streets.

Now we learned to navigate subways, direct taxi drivers that spoke no English and explore an urban jungle of concrete overpasses, constant traffic and a mass of humanity. My mom was always a great cook but now our palates exploded as we tried our first Chinese, Indian, Russian and Jewish food. It took traveling thousands of miles for us to sample our first bagel! We went from living in a brick house with a big front porch surrounded by trees to living first in a hotel for 3 months (I highly recommend this), and then 5 years of apartment living with massive windows looking out on an bursting cityscape with serene Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Our quiet weekends morphed to explorations of Japan, hopping on trains to see the wonders of Nikko shrine, the massive Buddha in Kamakura and Yokohama's harbor.

The holidays with extended family became celebrations with our new “extended” family, friends who shared the same experience in Japan, and introduced us to traditions they brought with them from home such as dirty rice from Louisiana.
When I stepped off that plane 49 years ago, I didn't realize how much my world was going to explode with experiences that would shape my life and even my kids life: my addiction to travel, my love of cities, my food fanaticism and my conviction that home is not a structure, it is where you gather with the ones you hold close, both family and friends.

Thank you, Dad & Mom, for taking us on that fantastic adventure that started today, 49 years ago today!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stuck in an elevator!

“What is this, a clown car?”, one of New York's finest exclaimed as 16 of us were helped out of the elevator. So began our first morning of our weekend excursion to the Big Apple.
We should have known something was amiss when it took 10 minutes for an elevator to stop on our floor. When the doors finally opened, it was a packed car but we tucked ourselves in. Next stop, the doors opened and though my instinct was to say no room, our traveling companion was there and of course we shifted to make room as I beckoned her into the elevator. Next stop was the Lounge level where several passengers were planning on getting off to grab breakfast.
But as we descended to 12, there was an ominous jolt, a dead stop and then nothing. The doors didn't open. There was a wave of nervous laughter, and people shifting in the car and then it sank in. We were stuck. With 16 people dressed for the cold New York weather sandwiched in a very small space. The man next to me hit the emergency intercom button and after a few seconds, a voice crackled, “yes, hello, are you in trouble?”, and 16 people loudly responded at once, “YES WE ARE STUCK IN THE ELEVATOR!!!”
“Hello, hello, are you okay?”
"Can only one of you respond?” The crackly voice requested. He said they would call the mechanic and let us know how the rescue was proceeding.
Meanwhile, inside the car, the temperature was raising precipitously. To my husband's delight, the voluptuous woman behind him peeled down to her camisole and warned that it would shortly be coming off if we weren't released soon. One analytical young woman, started querying each passenger about their weight, to see if we were over the 3500 pound limit. As one man after another gave her his weight, she got to me, “So how much?”, she asked in a slightly accusatory tone. “There is no way I'm telling you my weight!”, I responded. My husband gallantly chimed in, “there are 16 of us and no one here is over 200 pounds, so that is not the issue ”.
At this point, it had been over ten minutes since we'd heard from our crackly voice friend, so feeling compelled to take charge, I used my smartphone to look up the Marriott's phone number and called the front desk. The man who answered seemed surprised to hear we were stuck and assured me he'd look into it and call me back, as I gave him my cell number. I had to bite my tongue to prevent myself from ranting about his incompetence at not knowing there were 16 people stuck in the elevator!
At this point we started to hear some activity outside our door. Then the front desk called back.
“YES”?, I asked in a querulous tone.
“Uh, m'am, I believe you called the wrong Marriott! I just went and checked and all our elevators are functioning properly.”
“Oops”, I responded sheepishly, “thanks for getting back to me so quickly.”
Of course the whole elevator heard this exchange…so much for me taking charge!
Finally, the doors were pried open, and our welcoming committee of NYC policemen, and firemen (what is it about a young guy in a fireman uniform), ushered us out of the car.
They claimed it was the volume of people that caused the problem, but I didn't buy it. Fortunately no one panicked and all had a sense of humor about it, though if the twenty minutes had stretched to thirty, I'm not sure that would have been the case.
Needless to say, we avoided that elevator for the rest of our stay…and had a wonderful weekend after that!