Archive for February, 2012

Japan 6 “Sayonara”

February 16, 2012

This was my first experience with a Naval base, and it was quite different than my visits to Army installations. At the gate, they didn’t even look at my papers, as I was in a car with a permanent employee. The lodging was excellent, a suite consisting of a kitchen, living room, and small bedroom and bath. The queen bed took up most of the space in the bedroom. There were two TV’s, bedroom and living room, and lots of channels as compared to the dozen at the Army base. This base is a maintenance area for the George Washington carrier, and for about 7 months of the year the sailors are at sea, leaving their families behind. The elementary school has around 550 students at any one time, but there is a significant turnover, about 30 % annually, as parents are transferred to other assignments.

Each night, I was able to fall asleep to the roar of the F-18’s blasting off for some kind of exercise over the ocean; periodically during the day the sound drowned out conversations in the school, even though the airstrip was about a mile away. Our tour of the base was headed by the Commanding Officer, a Naval Captain, and included being able to try out the controls on a flight simulator, sort of like a sophisticated video game, and prowl around the aircraft parked in the hangars and on the apron. Maintenance personnel and pilots explained what all the geegaws, protruding and recessed, were for, and seemed excited to be able to share their knowledge with us.

There were a number of restaurants and fast food places on the base; we sampled a different one each evening. I finally was able to spend some time, and some $$$, buying Japanese artifacts to try and fit into my luggage for the flight home. I’m glad that international flights allow two checked bags, at  no charge.

Now for some observations. I have been constantly amazed at the resiliency of the military personnels’ families, having to “pick up and leave” almost on a moment’s notice. Not only does this present uproar within the family; as a school administrator it’s somewhat of a nightmare when faced with the difficulty of providing consistency within the educational program. And it’s not only the children having to move; teachers are often “snatched out of the classroom” in mid-year, as their spouses are sent elsewhere. Some of the children in the elementary school had already been in as many as five schools by the time they reached sixth grade; most have learned to adjust to the anxiety of losing their recently-made friends, and prepare to meet new ones in a new locale. The kids do seem to have a lot of confidence in themselves, having had to learn to muddle through adversity and deal with significant life changes. At the same time, many of them do not have “roots”, that is, a particular place to call home. For many, the nomadic life in the military IS their home; the closest some of them get to having a real place is an annual visit to grandparents somewhere in the States. Within this lifestyle, a whole subculture has been created. Some of our team members were good examples, they were hugging and chatting with former colleagues from elsewhere, some in Germany, Italy, Korea, and delving into their own grapevine of gossip and stories about this person or that military base. One of our team had raised all three of her children overseas, 20 years in Germany and 10 in Japan; her comment was that all three could confidently achieve anything they were after, partially due to having grown up in this mobile setting.

In order to address this issue, the Department of Defense Educational Agency (DODEA) establishes the same curriculum and materials for use throughout all 196 of their schools around the globe, and even dictates professional development activities to be replicated in all locations. As much of the decisions are made at the higher levels, many of the principals become more “managers” than leaders, although the best ones recognize the need for creating ownership of the program by the participants in order to achieve successful student achievement, and structure “in school” professional development seminars and training to achieve that collegiality and sharing.

One of the really refreshing things about these schools is the terrific amount of diversity among the staff and students, at no such school have I seen any inkling of discrimination. Everyone works together, and form friendships and alliances regardless of ethnicity, gender, or any other category often creating problems at home. And at each school, I find some new project or idea to share with the next schools I visit.

I really like what I’m doing!   (I don’t like the extra inches added to my waistline on these trips; I thought that by using chopsticks I could overcome that problem, but it hasn’t worked. Do you think if I learned to eat one rice grain at a time, that would help?)

ABH

Japan 5 “One Day for Tokyo”

February 12, 2012

Japan 5  “One Day for Tokyo”

It’s a bit ambitious to think of seeing Tokyo in one day, after all, the metropolitan area encompasses 35 million folks. However, if one thinks of this level of city as merely a collection of interesting sites, with the myriad of buildings and houses as merely filler between them, then you have a different perspective. Actually, I’ve been trying to “define” what makes a city interesting, and there’re probably more things in that “filler” than at the sites. For example, as I looked out of our tour bus, I saw a traffic cop halt traffic coming from one direction, then bow to the traffic he was allowing to proceed, from a different direction. I tried to imagine that happening in the US and, while I could picture them making some kind of gesture, it certainly didn’t include a respectful bow.

All cities have their museums, most of them have some sort of “tower” or extra-tall skyscraper from which you can view the whole area (there’s the Tokyo tower, about 1100 feet high with two observation levels halfway up), usually a few parks scattered about to offer some relief from the concrete and steel, and, if they’re lucky, maybe a river or lake. But none of those things really inspire thinking, one moves through them as an observer and merely makes a note that “now I’ve seen the Louvre”, or “I’ve been up in the tower”. It’s what one sees between these venues that provides the real flavor—why are those people doing what they appear to be doing and in fact, what is it that they’re doing?

Usually, when I go to a new city having the promise of lots of “things to see”, I take one of those double-decker bus tours so that I can see where everything is located, then go back on my own, on successive days, enjoying the walk and observing what’s occurring in “that filler”. But that wasn’t possible this time; the Army base is an hour train ride from Tokyo; then, when you finally get there, everything is so far apart that at times it takes most of an hour between stops. So, my two colleagues and I booked an all day tour ($162) and headed out, walking, at 5:30 a.m. to make sure we could find the train station and not miss our train (more on that later). It turned out to only be about a 20 minute walk from our quarters, out through the entrance and security gate for the base, and straight ahead for about 6 blocks (more on this later, also).

One of the things that is a bit uncomfortable, with which I became somewhat acquainted in Cairo, and even more so now in Tokyo, is the language barrier. Europe and its nearby neighbors are not so bad, as I have a bit of German and French to get me through if they don’t do English; but in these two new locations it’s difficult to find someone when we’re in need of help, including directions. Both Egypt and Japan, bless their hearts, post signage in their languages (you know, those squiggly lines and little rectangles) and in English, which is at least a starting point for getting somewhere. But Tokyo enjoys a plethora of mass transit trains, some of them privately owned, and displayed on large charts and screens in beautiful bold colors. However, if you don’t know how to spell the destination, it can be difficult. Our first issue was in purchasing tickets from machines; the charts indicated that it would be 400 yen for Tokyo. (That’s about $5, $1=76 yen). Not knowing what to do, once we had the tickets clutched in our hands sweaty from anxiety ( I did not want to waste that $162!), we finally had a conversation with one of the station agents, replete with hand gestures, pointing, and limited speech. The bottom line was to go to platform 3, and change trains at Mishiga.

Ultimately, we changed trains (with guidance) and made it to the Tokyo rail station. The interior resembled lots of other places in the area—as if someone had poked a stick into an ant hill. People scurrying in every direction, certainly having a destination in mind rather than what appeared as aimless sauntering by my group. We noted a number of young women attached to very large items being carried, covered, like a back pack, and we speculated on what was inside. Possibly a bassoon or other long musical instrument? Skis? Rocket propelled grenade launchers? Whatever it was, it didn’t appear to be very heavy; the girls didn’t look as though they were dressed to go on a sporting activity; more like students going to a conservatory. After a number of blind alleys, we were finally directed to the exit door near the hotel where the tours would start, and headed in that direction. Noting that we had about 45 minutes before assembling, we decided to have breakfast.

Hah! This was our first introduction to the Tokyo cost of living. In the hotel coffee shop, my two scrambled eggs were $14, a cup of tea or coffee was $12. Our colleague’s breakfast was $36! Remind me to starve when I’m in Tokyo. Anyway, we finished our snack, and went to the tour assembly area, and were on our way. The buses were plush, but the seats were a bit narrow for non-Asians—either that, or I had still not lost those extra pounds. Probably a combination of both. The tour guide spoke an interesting version of English, drawing out the sound of whatever word was last in a sentence. He gave the usual facts particular to his genre, and was constantly checking to make sure all of us were on the bus after each stop. Our first venture was the Tokyo Tower, and the only disappointment in the view from the top was that there were some clouds hiding Mt. Fujiyama off in the far distance. There were buildings as far as the horizon in three directions, the fourth being Tokyo Bay and the Pacific beyond. Tokyo must have the world’s greatest number of skyscrapers, there were hundreds gathered in clusters here and there throughout the landscape. I wondered what people do in all of those, is there a real need? All those tall structures, regardless of their architecture, seem composed of stacks of small cubicles, just like all the apartment buildings; the only difference is that you don’t see laundry drying on balconies on the sides. I kept thinking, “this is the City of Cubicles” as I failed to see anything else, regardless of where I looked. There were a few exceptions, usually something out of an architect’s fantasy in  their startling appearance, but not many. On the other hand, the only real traditional Japanese structures were in and around the Imperial Palace, and a few other venues having a pagoda or two, waterfalls, tea houses, and pleasant gardens. At one of these adjoining an ultramodern new hotel, there were 22 weddings being held at various locations throughout the gardens, simultaneously; some brides in traditional dress and others in wedding white gowns. One bride, emerging from the subway in her traditional garb, flashed a smile and the victory “V” at us as she headed for the altar.

We were taken to a tea house, to view a traditional tea ceremony; the highlight of that experience was a small tremor that shook the walls of the building. The “tea lady”, through our guide’s translation, said “Don’t worry, this building has been here for over a hundred years, through lots of quakes”, and we were reassured. There were only three weddings going on in this garden. We were told that one reason for all of them being held on that day is that the date is one of two national holidays, and celebrates the founding of the Japanese nation. At the same time, we were also told that a lot of Japanese don’t know that.

The tour included lunch, referred to in the brochure as “a barbeque”, and which turned out to be a series of vegetables, small slices of pork and beef, soup, and a salad, some of it cooked on a hibachi. It was very good, but hardly filling for those of us used to a bit more bulk. Later, at our next stop at the Imperial Palace grounds, the highlight was an ice cream sundae which I consumed to make sure it was safe for others to eat.

Our last official stop was at a “bazaar-type” of shopping area having 100 booths arranged in two rows, and leading to an elaborate Shinto shrine. There were only five or six types of booths, but 10 or 20 having the same stuff at the same prices, so it could be difficult to decide what to buy. I bought nothing and, tired and with aching legs, headed for the bus.

Arriving back at the tour departure hotel, we confidently zoomed through the lobby, down the escalator, and hiked the long corridor into the train station. Our excitement at knowing where we were going quickly waned, and we had to fall back on asking directions of the station personnel, who sent us to the appropriate platform. From there, we successfully negotiated the train portion of the trip, changing trains at the right place with no problems. I jokingly made the comment, “After finally and successfully getting on all the trains, wouldn’t it be funny if we got lost on the 8 blocks back to the base?” Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce are probably squirming somewhere; little did we know what awaited us.

When we left the train and exited the station, the scene before us was not familiar. “We must be on the wrong side of the station, let’s go up the stairs and down the other side. Whoops! This isn’t it either. Let’s try to ask someone. Zama is that way? Okay, let’s go. Say, we’ve been walking about two miles and we just came down a long curving hill that wasn’t here before. Let’s ask someone in that convenient store. That way? Let’s go. Hey, we’ve been walking another couple of miles, what happened to that 8 blocks? Let’s go back to the railroad station and start over. Look, there’s a police station! Let’s ask directions. Sir, we’re lost, where is Camp Zama? You’re kidding! We got off at the wrong station? But it said Zama. Oh, there’s another one with that name included. What—you had written it down but didn’t bother to look at it when we were seeking our station? Let’s get a taxi”. —And we finally got home, after walking about 5 or 6 miles over hill and dale. Thus ended the day.

Some random observations:

Black is the preferred color of every kind of clothing, whether it be a topcoat, miniskirt with leggings, slacks, or anything worn in public. If there is a color, it is muted. Women seemed to be as fashion conscious here as they are in  most large urban centers; well-groomed and nicely garbed. Saudi Arabia shared only the use of black, in women’s outfits; otherwise they were decidedly non-Western.

Whenever you ask, “How long will it take to get there?”, you always hear the phrase, “Depends on traffic” and it really does! We can say the same thing in Thermopolis, when asked how long it takes to get to the State Park—“Depending on traffic, it could take 50% longer—3 minutes instead of 2—and if you miss the traffic light”.

The Japanese love to play golf, but it’s very expensive here. Green fees for their courses are around $200; they are however permitted to play on the Zama garrison’s course for half that, helping the course be designated as the highest grossing course in the Army system. It cost us $27, including cart and rental clubs.

I had a haircut today on the base, from a highly-skilled Japanese barber. Although he began with the #3 clippers, most of the action was with deftly-manipulated scissors, with constant brushing in between snips. After finishing the cutting, he then gave a neck and shoulder massage, a mixture of those “karate chops” and deep kneading of the shoulder muscles. They sure don’t do that in Thermop!  And for only $12.50!

This afternoon, I went to an antique shop and bought a beautiful brocaded obi, the wide sash that  is wrapped twice around a young woman and anchored in place with another, narrower sash. I was told that people collect them and either use them for table runners, or hang them as tapestries. I like tapestries.

ABH

Japan 4 “One down, one to go”

February 9, 2012

Japan 4  “One down, one to go”

Today, our team finished the accreditation visit to the middle school on the Zama Army Post, and we have a few days to rest before resuming operations on Monday at an elementary school on the Atsugi Naval Base, 12 miles away. My task is to compile the report with details toward justifying the ratings we gave in each of the seven categories of standards; this school was an example of how well a school can function and the students perform, when there is truly a collegial and team approach focusing on “the whole child” rather than merely academics.

In preparation for today’s exit report, which I was to deliver, each of us spent the night hours constructing a narrative and identifying strengths and areas in need of improvement. With my current sleep/wake schedule, I retired at 7:30 p.m. with the intent of arising sometime during the night and completing my task. Unfortunately, when I awoke around 2 a.m., I was greeted by an email informing me that a valued collaborator with me on several education essays, and who was associating with me on an article about Leadership, was no longer accessible for consultation and sharing. From my present location, far from familiar surroundings and comfort, the news was almost as if someone had passed away, and my immediate reaction was one of grieving while trying to make sense of my notes for the morning’s presentations. I shall attempt to complete “our article” as a fitting tribute to our former partnership.

Saturday, we are planning to take the all-day tour of Tokyo, and I was told to take plenty of yen as prices are high. I recall reading one of those Forbes lists, the one about the ten most expensive cities, and Tokyo topped the list. Perhaps on Sunday, I can get somewhere to have a view of Mt. Fujiyama, so that I can say I’ve really been to Japan.

As you might guess, most of the cars are Japanese, and from the same automakers that we know at home; however, almost none of the models here look anything like the ones in Thermopolis, and each brand must have at least 20 different choices. Most of them are small, and highly appropriate for the average size of the Japanese. I walk everywhere on the base, and have to be extremely cautious when crossing streets, not having become accustomed to vehicles bearing down on me from “the wrong direction”. Tonight there was very little traffic as I walked to the rec center; not to work out but to soak my back in the great Jacuzzi. Coming back, I passed two large tents selling rugs and knickknacks from Turkey; just what I want in Japan. The rug seller attempted to interest me in an “100% silk Herekeh (the best of Persian rugs)” for $750; he obviously didn’t know whom he was dealing with, as I clutched my chest upon hearing the price.

One of the unfortunate side effects of doing these school evaluations is that the staff provides a cornucopia of sugar-laden items for our snacking. My notable lack of will power in the food arena has added 9 lbs. to my once sylph-like frame, and I am dedicating myself to once again attaining slim perfection, over the next week. No wonder my lower back was complaining.

Well, I think I’ll lay off the writing for a few days until after the weekend’s activities; perhaps there will be something more exciting, like an earthquake, to describe

Japan 3 “All Work and No Play”

February 7, 2012

Japan 3—All work and no play

Beginning Monday, we plunged into our assigned tasks, starting with two “in-briefings” at the two military sites, the Naval base at Atsugi about 12 miles away through narrow streets and massive traffic, and the smaller Army facility at Zama. The former is primarily a maintenance resource for the planes from the aircraft carrier George Washington; we will get a tour of that base next Monday when we move our responsibilities to the school located there.

All  movement was under a light, steady drizzle, but the temperature was very acceptable. The area of Japan where we are is sub-tropical; snow and continued freezing are rare, sort of like my Wyoming home—in July. The other  members of our Quality Assurance Review team arrived from their schools elsewhere in Japan; their schools will be undergoing these same processes next year and this gives them an introduction in order to effectively prepare. We will be looking at the school’s Vision and Mission, Governance, Teaching and Learning Processes and Results, Use of Data in Decision-Making, Supplemental Resources, Involvement of Stakeholders, and Plans for Continuous Improvement. Our team spent several hours Monday evening going over our schedule and the specifics of the review process and preparation for the final recommendations. My role at this school is Chairperson; the Vice-Chairperson and I will reverse roles next week. This is the normal sequence of leadership in these circumstances.

Tuesday began with a meeting with the school’s leadership team, the principal, and a small tremor. I would have paid no attention if the principal hadn’t leaped to her feet, ready to evacuate the school if the shaking continued. It lasted maybe five seconds or less, but was enough to jangle the nerves of those who had been through last year’s tragic circumstances. The main concern had been the prospect of the nuclear facility blowing up; and the military began evacuation activities for dependents and personnel. Our interviews with the garrison leadership and parents praised the school staff and principals for being an outstanding stabilizing force during all the uproar, becoming the most reliable source of accurate information as opposed to many rumors flying about through the civilian and military communities. The school’s communication system to parents allowed them to know that their children were safe, and in fact provided the military with an additional resource for information exchange to units needing timely updates about potential issues.

The rest of the day was a mixture of classroom visits, interview sessions with teachers and parents, and consumption of lots of sugary goodies provided for our comfort. One of the negatives of these visits is the availability of exceptional food bargains—Saturday had been “prime rib special” evening, Sunday was “$10 t-bone night”, Monday morning was the “all you can eat Super Bowl Breakfast”, all of which demonstrated my personal lack of will power. I  noticed its effect yesterday when I had to button the waistband of my recently-purchased new khakis, done in recognition that I’ve maintained a slimmer profile for 6 months. I did manage to do my upper body workout yesterday evening, followed by a tuna sandwich for dinner, but It looks like I had better get my tastebuds under firm control for the next few days.

Today we begin with student interviews, garrison liaison interviews, and further meetings with teacher groups. This middle school is only a few years old in concept, having been separated from a 7-12 high school into a 7-8 program. The relatively small enrollment (196) and progress toward a self-contained staff has eased the transition process and at the same time established significant ownership of the program by the staff, parents, and students. Today will be our longest work day, and will include sessions among ourselves to begin drafting our recommendations about the school’s eligibility for accreditation, and for Thursday’s oral exit reports in the afternoon.

These QAR visits have been “longevity feasts” for those of us retired from careers as educators. Each visit demonstrates that there are other ways to achieve satisfactory results, and provides us with insights to take to other schools, either those from which we retired or for other schools that we are asked to visit. We are finding that most schools do things fairly well, but at the same time even the best schools can improve. From my perspective, the most productive recent trends have been formats like Professional Learning Communities (PLC) which establish ownership of programs by all the participants, and thus enhance the chances of success, and brain-based research exemplified in professional formats such as Quantum Learning. Add the effective use of data in decision-making, and a school will have “a complete package” toward attaining identified goals and maximizing student performance.

 

Japan 1 Getting There is Half the Fun

February 4, 2012

Japan 1—“Getting there is half the fun”

The start of my trip was a tribute to Shakespeare’s line in Act 2 of As You Like It, “Sweet are the uses of adversity” or Bobby Burns “Best laid plans of mice and men gang oft agley”. When I travel, I like no surprises, so I carefully examined my flight schedule and planned accordingly. I use the Casper, Wyoming airport, a mere 120 miles from my home in Thermopolis, as the nearest “large” airport.

Since my first flight was scheduled for 6 a.m., to Denver, I decided to go the evening before and stay at one of the hotels that allowed one to leave their vehicle for the duration of the trip, free. On the way to Casper, I stopped at the airport and explained a potential issue—the airport shuttle from the hotel does not start until 5 a.m; would I have enough time to get to the airport in time to check in and go through security? The United rep suggested giving me my boarding passes now, thus saving time the next day. The counter sign indicated that one needed to have checked in at least 45 minutes before the flight time. Some quick calculations revealed that if the shuttle was “on time” leaving the hotel, I would get to the airport by 5:15 a.m., just making the 45 minute requirement; but by having the boarding passes that could be adjusted. So, I went ahead with the plan, then headed to the hotel and scheduled the shuttle for “first thing in the a.m., promptly at 5 a.m.” I explained the need, and the hotel staff wrote in the urgency of being on time, and subsequently I found out that they even called several times during the night to the shuttle provider, to emphasize the situation. I was satisfied that all bases had been covered; I went to bed and was ready to go by 5 a.m.

But I left out one variable—the shuttle driver. I recalled that on a previous occasion when I had used this service, the driver had forgotten to pick up some travelers at one of the hotels and, when he was summoned while we were on the way to the airport, realized that he had to go back as soon as possible to pick them up. Well, by 5:15 the shuttle had not appeared, I was panicky to the extent of expressing my concern with some rather coarse language, to the early morning air as I waited outside in the chill. The desk clerk made some phone calls, and determined that the driver had forgotten, again, and was on the way to the airport with the flight crew, who stay at another hotel. My only option was to grab my car keys from the desk, jump in the car, and head for the airport. I got there at 5:40 and at first, they weren’t going to let me get to my plane. Bu fortunately, the lady with whom I had made the arrangements the night before, was also going on that flight and told the others that I already had the boarding passes, etc. They rushed me through and I got to the plane as the last passenger to board. Later, I received an email from the hotel apologizing and offering me a free night later. I thanked them, but pointed out that I was now saddled with 18 days of parking fees in addition to the hotel bill, thus making all my thoughtful arrangements moot.

The small jet whisked me to Denver in 45 minutes, and allowed me to get on with my trip before the massive snowstorm was to hit later in the day. I have to admit to some major anxiety, which those of you in Wyoming would understand; they announced the names of the flight crew and one of the pilots was named Blankenship. I decided not to explore that, any further.

The flight to Seattle was uneventful, which is what you want when flying. I was a bit disappointed that I had an aisle seat, because I got only brief glimpses over other folks’ shoulders of beautiful scenery in the Cascades, and the many islands of the Washington coast.  During my two hour layover, I indulged in what I’ve discovered is the least expensive food item in airports, a bagel with cream cheese, and then headed to the restrooms to continue my project of rating airport facilities. I’ll have to give the Seattle airport a low score for the number of stalls available; there were people waiting in line (all men, by the way) for access. Compared to the Denver airport, this was at the bottom of the scale. On the other hand, they had something I’ve not seen elsewhere—the doors on the stalls opened OUT, not in; since you have to keep your stuff with you there’s always been the problem of trying to close the stall door around your two pieces of luggage.

The flight to Tokyo left on time, at 1:40 p.m. and,  as we were flying west, the whole 10 hour flight would be during daylight hours. Soon after takeoff, most of the passengers with window seats had drawn down the shutters, and the interior of the plane was like night, which persisted until about a half-hour before landing in Tokyo. It was like getting on an elevator, and when the doors opened again, having a different scene lying before you. We had entered the plane in Seattle, closed the doors, and when we could once again see our surroundings, were 5000 miles away.

Something I would like to understand—why is the service on US airlines less satisfying when compared to similar travel on others? On a number of occasions, I have made the trip from Denver to Frankfurt, Germany; sometimes scheduled on United and at other times on Lufthansa. As the two airlines are part of the Star Alliance system, their fares I assume are the same. The food on  Lufthansa is exceptional when compared to United’s; their attendants come around with hot, moist towels before each meal, they use real silverware, the meal itself not only has an entrée choice, but is supplemented by extras such as camembert cheeses, baguettes, and others; cognac is offered after a meal. And whenever one asks, free beer and wine are available. I thought maybe Lufthansa has government subsidy, but was told that is not the case. Yesterday’s flight reaffirmed my opinion of United’s offerings; they’re very similar to what we get on other U.S. airlines. Foreign airlines I’ve used, such as Turkish Air and Saudi Air, tend more toward the Lufthansa end of the continuum. Yesterday’s meals were sparse, particularly the second one which was primarily some noodles and a cellophane-packaged cookie.

Going through customs and passport control was completed easily; I was met by the Japanese driver from the Zama Army Base, holding up a sign with my name featured. The paparazzi were nowhere in evidence, quite a relief. He does not speak English, nor I Japanese except for a few things like “Hello, yes, no, thanks”. I hope to pick up a few more words during my visit.

The first thing I noticed was that the Japanese drivers are the most courteous I’ve ever seen, particularly in contrast to the ones in Cairo who pictured themselves as NASCAR champions. Most of the 2 ½ hour trip to the base was on a three lane toll road, and I saw absolutely no “close calls”. The speed limit is 60 mph, and they don’t fudge on it. Maybe all this caution is their anxiety from having to drive on the other side of the road, like the British. But what was unusual was that I wasn’t “white knuckled” at any point, either from the measured pace of the traffic, or fatigue from my lack of sleep. As it was night, I didn’t see much except for an unending stream of city lights and buildings, for the 80 miles. There was one spectacular bridge over part of the bay, that I want to see during daylight.

Upon arrival at the base, the principal of the school met me at the gate, and escorted me to the living quarters. I have a nice room with refrigerator and microwave, cable tv, a nice bed and roomy closets and drawers, and internet. The only negative is that it’s right next door to the base’s golf course, today is Saturday, and the temperature is in the high 40’s. And my main work doesn’t begin until tomorrow. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Sayonara

japan 2 Paradise revisited

February 4, 2012

Japan 2—Paradise revisited

The morning arrived accompanied by clear skies, a bracing chill in the air, and a beautiful view of the mountain range to the west. After downing a few items from the continental breakfast, I headed out, backpack on my shoulders, to see where everything is located on the base property. Naturally, my first stop was about a half mile away, up a long hill, at the entrance to the golf course. From there, the view was even more spectacular.

After checking out the potential for playing later, I entered the restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to see a menu not only comprehensive for breakfasts, but also reasonably priced. I struck up a conversation with a man sitting at a table, asking about the quality of the golf course; he invited me to sit and I had  more breakfast. He indicated that he and two others would be playing this morning, and invited me to join them. The other two arrived, we chatted, and I arranged to meet them “at the turn”, after the first nine holes. The first guy, Toby, was only to play nine, so I was to “take his place” later.

I left and continued my exploration tour, with a major destination to be the recreational facility on the far end of the complex. I should mention that this base is rather small in comparison with others where I have been assigned; nothing seems to be farther than a five or six block walk. The gym building is less than 10 minutes away, and is the most complete resource of that type that I’ve ever seen. The gym itself has three full-length basketball courts, side by side, with what appears to be an at least 1/8 mile running track above. Off the gym is the weight room, a blizzard of every black and white Nautilus and Life System machine known to man—there must be 50-60 of them in that huge room. I was told that upstairs is the “cardio” room with all kinds of torture devices requiring more effort than I like. The pool has at least eight lanes, and might be 50 meters in length, if not, it’s very, very big. The building is fairly recent; about three years old.

I headed back to the lodging area, to change into something “more suitable” for golf than my sweats, and I stopped briefly in the Post Exchange (PX) on the way, to buy a wrist support for my arm. Suddenly, someone called my name; I turned to see a gal who had been the Asst. Principal at a school I evaluated in Germany, and who now was here at the District Office. I chatted briefly with her husband and her; he had been my tour guide to Dachau and the Chocolate Factory in Bavaria, three years ago, and we had exchanged three or four emails since.  We arranged to meet later in the day and I went on to my destiny with tragedy, i.e., a triple bogey and a quadruple bogey among the first four holes I played. The course is more than hilly, it’ mountainous. There were no “flat” holes; in fact, most of them have the terrain plunging deeply and steeply downward from the tee box, only to rise up the same amount once reaches the bottom. Some of the holes actually approached 150’ variations in vertical terrain. Not having played for a few months, and using the rental clubs, it took a few holes to readjust my aging body. I did break 50, and played the final five holes only 3 over par, which I found to be satisfactory.

I returned to my room, changed back into the sweats, and headed to the rec center where I spent about 10 minutes shooting baskets, long enough to find out that whatever muscles are used for that activity, may have long disappeared. This was followed by my workout regimen for upper body, a continuation of the schedule worked out for me by the trainer in Thermopolis, and then a more-than-satisfying sojourn in the Jacuzzi. My back was in strong need of its ministrations, and I was able to make it the mile back to the room.

I had arranged to have dinner with my friends from Germany, and also invited the principal of the school I’m visiting this week. Unfortunately the Community Club restaurant was having the Prime Rib Special, and I was forced to have that entrée along with some Shrimp Scampi, soup, salad, MGD. An excellent cap to a great, albeit sore, day. A return to Paradise.

It is not uncommon to see Japanese wearing “surgical masks”, those white patches of cloth filtering out breathed-in air. I asked if it was due to the major radiation incident to the north; I was told that “no, it’s just that many Japanese are concerned about the spread of germs, pollution, and other nasties, so the idea is that these will prevent unwanted conditions”.

This is the first foreign country I’ve visited where I haven’t seen any Japanese tourists snapping pictures. I wonder why?

Tomorrow, our team has been invited to a huge Super Bowl Breakfast Party, at the club across the street, and complete with the Carolina Panther Cheerleaders! Kick-off for the game is around 8:15 a.m., and it should be a grand occasion in spite of the fact that the Broncos are remaining at home. They probably couldn’t get out from the snowstorm.

This afternoon we meet with the area commanding officer and staff;  Zama is an Army base and its companion, at Atsugi, is a Naval facility that services airplanes from the carrier fleet. Tomorrow, after the football game, we are being given an “official tour” of both locales; I shall be moving to the Atsugi site next Monday, to visit an elementary school there.

I’m still a bit wary of my surroundings; when I arrived, the school principal was showing me to my quarters, and explained what to do in the event of an earthquake. I may ask for a tent to set up out on the soccer field.