Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rain Shower for a Bike Ride

Japan has rain.  It met me about five minutes into my bike ride home and left me five minutes before the journey's conclusion.  My clothes have appreciated the abatement as they take a rest from the downpour on the porch outside.  How is it that the people along the way knew this would be only a passing shower, taking temporary refuge under trees and bridges?  How were they so faithful that a leisurely Sunday would not be taken from them, their outdoor pleasures snatched away until another week of free time had accrued, past due?  But there I was, drenched and stared upon by eyes more curious than normal.  Who was this strange person who would move through the shower, against the force of nature?  That I could not wait with them the amount of time, to suspend the journey, to suspend the soccer or baseball game a little longer.  Perhaps I had thought it would be like so many other rains and that I would celebrate it with a dry towel and a bowl of soup and the sound of it in the trees from within a dry home.  Perhaps I forgot that it was Sunday, and that there are certain rules of man and nature, rules concerning the treatment of time and weather that go beyond the activities of the home.  Perhaps I was missing Kaneko-san, our HPAC opera rehearsal having postponed our weekly hour.  Perhaps I should occasionally check the weather, or linger longer after early dismissed rehearsals, or leave more quickly.

But my Sunday leisure become the smell of the rain, the sheets of it coming down on the river, opening tiny holes in its surface, the open path shared by the occasional crazy runner or the elderly woman smiling sympathetically at me from under an umbrella.  I'm still not sure if this is the rainy season.  It's hard to delineate the definition of such a time, the start and finish of such a phase of the year.  When does it begin, when does it end?

Saturday, June 29, 2013


I don't know Italian, but it seems the sound of the language has become thoroughly infused with the sound of Rossini arias to me.  It is surprising to hear these arias in a new unknown language, Japanese.   "Grazie" becomes "Dōmo,"  and "buona sera," becomes "oyasuminasai." It's very educational.

In these early days of rehearsal before we've earned the presence of singers, our conductor and his assistant are playing karaoke with us.  The little assistant sits behind a table and several stacks of scores, singing all the cadenzas and nuances of the singers in full playful passion, vocally marking impossible passages and enjoying the flurry of Figaro.  He wears a khaki business suit and sneakers and is attentive to our conductor's every needs, taking time in certain places to teach us how we will need to respond.  The librarian served him a bottle of water after the second or third aria.

It will be great to have the singers, but I'm quite fond of this man's contribution to the opera process.  I hope he sings along in the green room during performances, even if I can't hear him.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Goodbye Dear Ben

In place of the Salad Express, it was the Hanshin Tigers that took Ben away today.  I encouraged him to get some Japanese pastries for the ride and at the encouragement of one of the bus workers, he got on the bus early.  From the other side of the window he motioned his enjoyment to me as he ate one.

We both individually watched the three Japanese bus workers stare at their coordinated digital clocks, watching the seconds arrive at 11:45:00, at which point the gentlemen by the bus door removed his cap, bowed, and released the bus from it's hold.  It's been great to share a bit of the world with him.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Rokko Hike and Onsen

A successful hike up Rokko-san and over the other side of the mountain to the town of Arima, famous for its onsen.  After about 3 and a half hours, numerous konnichiwa's, and a few onigiri, we arrived at the top where there wasn't really a victorious view.  In place of it, however, were some very friendly Japanese hikers who wanted to have their pictures taken with us.  Those pictures are on my brother's camera so perhaps I will futuristically abscond them.

We descended the opposite side of the mountain and followed another group of Japanese hikers, a bunch of retired gentlemen who showed us a shoruto cutto towards the town.  We followed them, but decided to give them their space when they started stretching at a break point.  We walked around the town, looking for food and found a free foot bath of which we made glorious use.  We had planned to do onsen there, but decided to go to a different one later in the evening near Takarazuka–we hadn't factored the sweatiness of our clothes and couldn't fathom changing back into them after a purging cleanse.

Some takoyaki and a soft serve later, we were on a winding bus through the country-side headed back to Takarazuka where we joined some friends for conveyor belt sushi.  Ben won a prize from all the plates we collectively consumed (a small piece of plastic food!), and we migrated to the miraculous Takarazuka onsen near Nakayama.  Onsen, one of the most beautiful parts of living in Japan.   Ben was the same as most people in being nervous to do his first onsen.  There are a lot of rules and rituals meant to keep the baths clean for everyone.  But when I saw him afterwards he was glowing.  There are few things that feel as good as a soak in the hot baths.

It's hard to believe that this was Ben's last night.  Has he even been here?  Tomorrow, he'll board the Salad Express.......

the beginning of the hike

mountain kittens, old friends from the last attempt to climb in January

Ben and Kobe;  surveying this new unsettled land  

a helpful ladder and a helpful Japanese man

up and up

going where nobody's gone before!
(hmmm, where did those wires come from?)

foot soak in the onsen!  (keeping the clothes on till later....)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tsukiji (sort-of), Imperial Palace, and National Museum of Modern Art

Some days are perfect because the light turns green as you get to the intersection and the weather is sunny but not too hot.  Other days are perfect because the fish market is having one of its arbitrary fixed holidays and the rain makes the Imperial Gardens glow a brighter green.

Our feet are slowly drying in this third hour of our Shinkansen trip back to Takarazuka.   As we walked in the rain, we quickly oscillated between the solace of empty peaceful paths with the sound of pattering raindrops, and the misery of wet feet and heavy backpacks.  We ventured to a sleeping fish market, a restorative street-side soba noodle breakfast, a walk through the Imperial Palace, and a visit to the National Museum of Modern Art.  It was a beautiful day.  Tokyo was good to us.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Asakusa, Akihabara, Tokyo Dome (and ice cream)

We started the day with a trip to Asakusa, a wholesale shopping district, complete with shrine in the northeast corner of Tokyo.  I had been mistaken in my optimism for a hard-boiled egg in my convenient store breakfast, but happily replaced it with a kinako ice cream "burger" from one of the small shops lining the streets on the way to the shrine.  It foretold a good day.

We looked through various stands, sampling street food, buying gifts and souvenirs and made our way to the district of wholesale Buddhist and Shinto paraphernalia as well as the district of wholesale kitchen goods.  Finally, I've found the source of all the plastic food displays in Japan!  Unfortunately, they were prohibitively expensive for the pocket of a novelty-minded tourist, so they will rest within the glass displays outside of restaurants and not take up space on my dining room table.

We then headed to Akihabara, the electronics and anime center of Tokyo.  A space fighting desperately for attention, but outside my grasp of understanding.  Ben and I slid through, and oriented ourselves toward Tokyo Dome.  

Once there we took a ferris wheel ride to see the city from above, walked around the mall shops, and got our tickets for the baseball game.  In Japan, it's fine to bring food and drinks into the stadium, so brought some Sappor beer, ramen and seaweed crackers and enjoyed some takoyaki and yakitori once inside.  We watched the man in front of us arrive, take off his business jacket in Mr.Rogers-like fashion and replace it with a green Hawks jersey, right over his white workman's shirt.  The crowd performed beautifully, the game was close and exciting.  The Nippon Ham Fighters won.

In our attempt to walk the twisting streets back to our hotel we got disoriented and stepped into a 7-11 for help.  The workers were more confused than we, but a friendly patron came over to us and took it upon himself to invite us to walk with him to a certain street from which we could find our way.  We talked a bit about baseball in broken English and Japanese.  And he made sure to get us pointed in the right direction.  

We got ice cream to celebrate.  From start to end, delicious.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shinjuku (Arrival in Tokyo)

Ben and I arrived in Tokyo after a quick Shinkansen ride.  We walked around Ginza (a bit too upscale to keep us long) and then walked around the Imperial Palace to find our hotel.  After a brief pit stop, we got on our feet again and headed out to find a bar run by Buddhist monks, and the huge shopping district Shinjuku.  Lights and alleys and so many (so so so many) people.  Most of my pictures are on my camera so I can't get them to my travelling iPad blog, but here is one I can share.  I took it early on in the evening, before I had any idea what my eyes would see.  So I'll leave you with this now timid initial impression until I can share more.  Tokyo is vast and amazing.  There is so much to take in.  I don't think we have any idea how tired we are.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kaneko-san to Kittens and Takoyaki

An incredible and packed today.

We started out the day with a trip to a Japanese lesson with Kaneko-san.  Ben listened to my unintelligible confusion interspersed with snippets of Kaneko-san's attempts to communicate with him in Spanish and English.  I gave him a long-overdue cookie gift from Thailand (claimedly well-preserved until December), and it was either this debt of giving, or his interest in practicing English, or his unpredictable hospitality and kindness, or some other unknown factor that suggested we all have lunch together after the end of the lesson.  We went to a nearby "Gasto" restaurant which claimed American Fair (or claimed to be an American Fair?  I'm not sure I got it), and we spoke in Japanese and broken English.  The kid a few tables over ate fries with chopsticks.

After lunch, Ben and I headed to Osaka to pick up our hotel and train tickets for our Tokyo trip.  We went to the Osaka Castle and then walked to Shinsaibashi to a cat cafe, a curiosity I've held for awhile which was waiting to be birthed by Ben.  The cats were cute, their love was classy.  To find them we had to navigate the most Bohemian area in Japan I've yet encountered.  This being said before a trip to Tokyo

We then continued our walk through Shinsaibashi, taking in the people, the sights, the stores, and of course, some takoyaki.  Ben discovered a true liking of this Japanese street food.  It's pretty delicious.

Tomorrow we head to Tokyo for yet more adventures.  It's been a packed trip so far and more, much more, to come.....

Neko no Jikan (the cat cafe, its name means, "Cat Time")

enjoying the black kitten

smooshy face

a feeling that happiness comes....

cat love

the window cat

smile takoyaki

love at first bite

Ben and the Glico Man

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Chamber Performance with David Kim

Today I ate the last of an incredible week playing chamber music with David Kim, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  I admit to having no small amount of fear of Tchaikovsky's huge string sextet, Souvenir de Florence.  I had memories of a summer several summers ago, of trying to put together the work with five peers, feeling the colossus weigh us down in rehearsals and swallow me in the performance. It is longer, more daunting and more demanding than many symphonies.   It requires an incredible intensity of energy for about 35 minutes.  And with only six people carrying the load, it is a lot to bear.

At the first rehearsal, Mr. Kim's first comment was to me, and he continued to pursue it throughout the week.  Leading from the bottom.  This is an exhausting work to perform and he was giving me a great deal of the responsibility in the momentum and the sound of the entire group.  My incorrigibly staid countenance learned a new energy this week, one of urgency, of flushed passion, of breathlessness and flight.  Empowering those around me, feeling the source inside of me give rise to something in others and in turn feeding from this.  In the slow second movement I have very sparse pizzicato, one at the beginning of every measure.  Boom...................boom.................boom.............David told me to lead him in his solo of sixteenth and eighth notes.  How, I'm hardly playing?  But I did, and I heard him hear it, and it was a really beautiful thing.

To have someone receive your energy and respond to it.  No words to get in the way, no meaning to parse, only gesture, only drama, as pure as the willingness behind it.  I'm looking for this in music.  The connection that is possible in these places–with other musicians, with the audience whose breath was with us, too.  It seems so natural in the middle of it, and yet it dissipates so quickly and we are left with our awkward selves, trying to make sense of living, trying to make sense of loving.  Or maybe it's only me that feels searching in this way.  Searching for that shared space that trusts, that moves, and is still, all at once.  That living that dies in every moment, happily.

To touch people.  How beautiful!  As we finally came to the last page, I felt myself chew a little more slowly inside despite the quick tempo, my motor being the driving force and the fault of the coming end.  And then it was over.  We had the pleasure of a two string chamber orchestra pieces with him leading on the second half.  And then it was really over.  And that's the way it goes.  There is so little time to be born in the instant.

Friday, June 21, 2013


It's so quiet in my apartment without my brother.  He's not a noisy person and is usually asleep by this time anyway so I'm not really sure why it seems so much quieter.  I've just gotten used to his presence in my home and look forward to his return from Hiroshima tomorrow evening.

What is it about sharing a space and a companionship with another person that feels so good?  How is it that we connect with one another?  Is it because I've known Ben for so long?  Is it the similarity of our genes that we perceive the world in a similar humor, or is it that we've come to know one another over time?

I deeply appreciate these connections with family and friends.  I think it is one of the many things that I am learning in Japan and that has been on my mind recently as I've had visits from both my brothers here–the invaluable and unknowable importance of these relationships.  It's so wonderful to be here, and it's wonderful to look forward to being home, again.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rainy Travels

So this is the rainy season.  My bike is taking a rest in an underground garage at HPAC, I can smell my brother's well-travelled soaked shoes from rainy walks in Nara and Kyoto these past two days,  his feet taking a hit from his enthusiastic sojourning.  To him, his curiosity is blind to the wear and the weather. After travelling to these two historic centers of Japan with friends of mine, he'll be venturing a solo trip to Hiroshima tomorrow by way of Shinkansen (bullet train), staying in a hostel for a night alone.  It will be his fifth day in Japan, his fifth day outside of America, his first time leaving that country where mailboxes are blue and people board in the front of the bus.  It will likely be raining in Hiroshima and Miyajima, but his shoes will weather the wear–I'm a little jealous that he'll get to see these places and I'm a little jealous of these places for getting to see him.  He's a great companion.  But in two days time I'll have him back and we'll have our adventures in Osaka and Tokyo if all goes according to plan.  Likely it will be raining, and I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

HPAC Chamber Rehearsals

This week we are performing a concert with the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.  He's leading a reduced string chamber orchestra for Dvorak's Serenade for Strings and a few of us are lucky enough to being playing Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence for string sextet with him.  Incredible.

After 10 months of almost exclusive orchestral playing, I'm realizing how out of shape I am as a chamber musician.  Mr. Kim asked me to lead more with my sound as the second cellist in the sextet and I find myself having to connect with a new sound concept, a new level of overtly expressive playing, a voice of insistance and leadership, of self-assuredness.  And how will I use this voice?

As an orchestral musicians, I feel that I am constantly concerned with listening, blending, playing in tune and in time.  But I never lead with my sound.  No one ever asks me to enjoy the control I can have with my vibrato or the speed of my bow.  And so I've stopped practicing them in my everyday sound concept.  I've lost touch with this part of my playing.  It pushes more buttons inside of me to have to more clearly define my sound identity and how I use it to shape music.  I must not only listen, but speak.   It's a true feeling of growth.  Chamber music is so incredible.   I feel like it takes me to the edge of my capacity to listen, to think, to understand, to feel, to communicate, to connect.  I don't think I'll ever get to the bottom of it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Evening of Chamber Music

A very lovely evening of chamber at Switch Global Culture Cafe and Dining.  It would be wonderful to continue it.  We become better musicians.  Audiences listen in a differently with such intimacy.  We are sharing something with one another, learning something.  Chamber music is so challenging and so rewarding.  I hope we can express the value to those that can help us make it happen.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Kyoto with Ben!

Another brother is here!  We went to Kyoto today, quite tired from a night of little sleep (and for some of us, long days of travel).  First to Ryouanji, a famous rock garden and temple.  It was a lot of fun figuring out how to get there and discovering a new little streetcar private train.  How many little big things are tucked away in Kyoto?  (The rocks were nice, too.)

Then to Nijo-Jo, a very historic castle of Japanese sorts.  In place of turrets there were lots of tatami rooms, gold painted screens, paper sliding window doors, and a group of junior high school students interested in practicing their English with us for an amusing class assignment.  I might have cheated by reading the scripted dialogue on their sheet to help them along.  I also might have confused them by saying "tōka (ten days)" in Japanese rather than "tōku (far away)"  when talking about their field trip from Tokyo to Kyoto.  Hopefully their teacher will be understanding.  Hopefully my good intention and linguistic blundering will karmically cancel one another out.

After that we went to the historic Gion district (because it's hard to find history in Kyoto),  Kiyomizudera, and tea at the oldest tea cafe in Kyoto with my friend Nao.   Tomorrow is my first day of chamber rehearsals with the concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra as well as our chamber music concert at Switch Restaurant in Osaka, Umeda.  Ben is planning to do some solo travel during my upcoming rehearsal days though I think he will have the benefit of some friendly company to help him steer the way.  So good to have him here!

at Ryouanji's non-rock garden

outside Nijo-Castle (no pictures allowed within)

Garden at Nijo-Jo

Kiyomizudera in summer

backlit Ben (Kiyomizudera)


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chi Chi no Hi

This evening I took an earlier bus than necessary to get to the airport to meet my brother.  It felt good to be the end of someone's long journey, and to take the extra time to be sure that I would be there and be able to connect with him.  I'm reminded of the times that my father steadfastly waited for me, delivered me from one event to another, with a generosity of his time more than necessary.  He is such a source of stability, trust, and assurance.  On the way from one activity to another there was often talking.  And listening.  Always listening.  I feel like I learned so much in the calm of his thinking and the manner of his deliverance.  It felt good to share a bit of it with my brother on his visit.  So fortunate to have such a role model.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

False Rainy Season Starts

Might it be the beginning of the rainy season?  It should be, but the normally dour and completely unreliable weather forecast optimistically seems to predict very little additional rain to the showers we had earlier today.  So strange.  Thus far, the much lamented coming of the wet season has only yielded a beautiful dark shower which I happily accompanied with reading the paper on the fifth floor of HPAC staring at the rolling mountains and raindrops on the ledge of the windows.  I was able to bike before it hit, and by the time I wanted to return home, the sky was only spitting.  The sun was setting in dramatic golds and pinks, and in the east, over the river, an incredible rainbow formed.  I road mostly solo along the rain-soaked fields and stopped to watch it, feeling the darkened bark of the tree near me, inhaling the humidity.  It was so clear, a rainbow shadow formed on its outskirts.  I stared at the sky, looking down every now and then.  From that open endlessness, and back to Japan.  The shinkansen racing by on a bridge in the distance, a nearby sign with Japanese writing, a lonely biker, an opportunistic runner.  I kept watching the sky as the sun descended behind its hills, taking with it more and more of the colorful arch.  Was it still there, or simply emblazoned on my eyes?

And then I returned to Japan in the flesh, got on my bike, and rode the rest of the way home.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Sir Neville Marriner (II)

Ingrid Bergman said, "Happiness is good health and bad memory."  Apparently, so did Albert Schweitzer.  And Sir Neville Marriner seems to be a good example.  No holding on, no worries.  Taking care of each moment as it arises and laughing about the ones that pass less gracefully.  Our rehearsal proctor, Ito-san, has been quite confused by the erratic and spontaneously changing rehearsal schedule this week.  Suddenly time for coffee breaks, impromptu announcements of rehearsing pieces already rehearsed earlier in the day, extra musicians waiting for their chance to play in the lounge.  And Sir Neville Marriner has been amusedly compliant to the rules by which the orchestra seemingly needs to adhere.  And no one in the orchestra seems in the least bit distressed, other than Ito-san, who isn't distressed so much as just wondering what to do.  I'll miss watching their relationship.

And the happiness of this man, his calm, unworried content, is what he seems to bring to the podium that so few others bring.  Could he carry it with him without the years that came before?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Summer Sounds

The winds are blowing, it's heating up in the Kansai region.  Apparently we should be in the rainy season by now, but the weather today was blissfully Mediterranean if a not a little bit atsui.  And it will be atsui again tomorrow, around 31 degrees Celsius (about 88 Fahrenheit).  The frogs are croaking at an incredible volume in the artificially flooded rice paddies, and the crows are increasingly more vocal every morning.  Everyone seems to be celebrating the heat, not least of all casual conversations.  Only a few months ago it was, "Samuine!"  (It's cold, isn't it!) and now "Atsuine!" (It's hot, isn't it!)  It's something upon which we can all agree.  It's my first non-student summer and I still feel the release in my bones.  I hear it all around me.  Relaxing into warmth, the welcoming touch of the air on skin.  Ah it's summer and oh so beautiful!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ephemeral Tastes of Japan

There are so many delicious foods in this world, and specifically, in Japan.  I think I may have an unhealthy addiction to kinako powder.  Last month it was azuki paste, this month kinako.  As the weather heats up, I find myself craving the taste of sour plum, something I used to detest, but that supposedly has body cooling properties.  I've only come so far as to want it in furikake (rice seasoning) but even this is a new awakening for me.  Seaweed–cooked, dry, flaked, anyway, anyhow–has become a staple.

As I finished my kinako yogurt this morning, I thought about the sadness that comes with eating something really delicious.  A friend of mine lamented the inevitable conclusion of kale chips from Trader Joe's, an even more dire predicament than mine given the difficulty in procuring more.  And another friend of mine and I had a moment of reflection over the deliciousness of the Korean seaweed we had just consumed at lunch.  The more you chew, the less there is.  The pleasure cannot exist without the act of destroying it.  That's just the way it is.  I'll have to work very hard to eat all the wonderful things in Japan, but someday it will have to come to an end.  And then I'll live near a well-stocked Japanese store in America.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Beginning of Sir Neville Marriner

Sir Neville Marriner is with us this week.  Yesterday we had the full orchestra and played through the entire concert, encore included with no comments.  Just, "It will be a pleasure to work with you all,"  and a few other cheerful jokes and mumblings.  Today we had sectionals;  strings in the morning, winds in the afternoon.  We worked a little more on details.  And again we worked on the encore.  The Andante of the Reformation Symphony.  I think he really loves this movement.

It's a pleasure to be working with him.  I don't know what makes him an incredible conductor, though I have an idea for myself, in my own eyes and perception, what strikes me.  But I wonder what made him an incredible conductor in the past.  Was it the same thing as what I see this week?

I'm really looking forward to working with this cheerful, healthy 89-year-old British gentlemen whose "dynamics" sounds to me like "dinner mix."  This man who asks us if we'd like to rehearse from a certain spot, or if we would like a suggestion from his score, a relic likely worthy of a place in a British museum.  So many experiences in him, so many lessons that he will likely share with us simply in his manner of being.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pictures from a Recent Journey to the Mall

From a recent journey to a mall near HPAC to get my new Alien Resident Card picture.  

Safety First
I used to wonder about the presence of a phrase in my Japanese phrasebook:
"I have been made redundant." (risutora saremashita) 

But walkers, bikers, and likely any chickens with the motivation, always cross safely.
Pushy turn-lane drivers never have the chance.
Summer comes to Japan
I chose number 2 (of four identical non-smiling pictures),
 but the clerk said my eyes were bigger in this one, number 4.
Sodesune.  I deferred to his superior perceptive abilities.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mata Raishuu (Kaneko-san)

Another prodigal return to dear Kaneko-san.  We were alone in the lounge of the Takarazuka International Friendship Association where we usually share our learning space with several other student-teacher pairs, an arm's length and a table away.  Where were they?  Perhaps they had all finished learning Japanese and were out in the world defending human rights and ordering complicated dishes.  Not me.  Today I got to work on conditional clauses.  If they visit the Yasukuni shrine, Korea will be angry.  If I eat salmon, I will also eat spinach.

Our lessons always start quite predictably, with each of use wearing our appropriate hats.  I read the sentence examples and then Kaneko-san reads them.  He repeats and accentuates the grammar parts as he goes and I try to absorb the flow and pronunciation of his speaking.  And then suddenly some spontaneous distraction hits one of us and the other goes along for the ride.  Somebody asks a questions and the reverse side of a flyer is filled with random words related to our conversation, scribblings in Japanese and English as we try to understand our respective languages and one another: "1. My daughter plans to get married, 2. My daughter is getting married, 3. My daughter is going to get married."  "Bangkok is more bustling than Koh Tao."  "Koh Tao is not more bustling than Bangkok."   It's during this part of the lesson–part reading examples, part shooting-the-breeze–that humor can happen.  Laughing with another crosses a barrier that language could be blamed for constructing.  Whether or not I understand all the particles, whether or not we know the meaning of all the words, it feels like we're getting somewhere.  In any language, it feels good to laugh.

Following this, we pull ourselves together and he reads through my essay, correcting it with his red pen which he pulls from a pencil case he carries with him.  (It's filled with writing utensils–what do they all do??  It boggles the mind.)  This is a fairly straight forward denouement to the conclusion of the lesson where our teacher-student hats are once again securely fastened, tray tables in upright and locked position, and we start to put away our things in silence.  Once my bag is packed, we both head bow saying, "mata raishuu (until next week)."

Every week, this opening and closing.  Mata raishuu, mata raishuu......

Saturday, June 8, 2013


This has been a demanding week.  Returning from Thailand, jumping back into playing the cello again for orchestra and chamber music and self-edification, jumping into committee and chamber music meetings, biking everyday and picking up Tae Kwon Do again, saying goodbye to family and the comfortable fit of that sort of relationship.  My ears are still equalizing.  My body is in a different place.  My mind is wanting of deeper respite.

I found myself in different places throughout the day.  Places outside my routine.  Breakfast by the river, shopping in the mall.  When things aren't aligned, life seems absurd.  How did I get here?  Surely it wasn't my own doing.  Some part of me must have missed the transition, some part of me had no idea this was possible.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why I like to travel now and then.  It not only brings me to a new place, but it resituates me within the one that I normally occupy.  Transitions.  What can be learned from the act of transitioning?   What am I learning about my mind and body and emotions when routine is shuffled a bit, when things aren't quite where I left them, when my hand can't navigate the strings, my mind is tired, and I'm missing a familiarity recently revisited?  But somehow, despite this, many things are settled perfectly in place.  Like how shaking helps the flour find its way through the sieve.  Maybe this is the most solid place I can hope to be.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Another Conductor

Another week, another conductor.  By the time I leave here I will have played under many batons of different fashions.  This week's is a flipped collar, with a bit of chest and a silver pendant choker.  His tight black pants accompany any shirt, appropriate for rehearsal and performance alike.  He wears his clothing with designer glasses, incredible energy, and a Swedish accent.

Every conductor brings a new way of working, a new set of criteria, or lack thereof.  They each have  strengths and weaknesses.  It's valuable to simply be able to experience these different ways of rehearsing and performing.  We are tacitly exposed to their philosophy of music, we take in the experiences that they have had through the way that they treat us, we learn something about the courage and humanity that is involved in leading a group of people for one week.  Some try to control every little detail.  Some let us out early.  Some are more trusting than others.  Some talk a lot.  Some have us play things repeatedly without explanation.  Some change the way they work throughout the week and others make the same comments from the first day to the dress rehearsal.

We have many masters and are privy to the ways that their leadership effects their following.  The way they address us, the content of what they say, the way that they move, their expectations–all of this and much more will effect the way that we perform, how much they can do with us, what limitations they impose on the music they are trying to make.  It must be an incredible art to perfect, and extremely rare to find a great conductor.  Many of them, like we in our everyday life, have things which get in the way of their pure intentions.  And they, like us, are working with those things to the best of their ability and awareness.

So while we must submit ourselves to them, I think we are privileged to witness the variety of ways that people undergo the vulnerable act of conducting.  Hopefully I'll take something from the experience when I work with students, ensembles, and myself in the future.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Earwax Explanations

A few short weeks ago, when my brother and his girlfriend were visiting me in Japan, they received the results of a genetics test that they and some of my family did for fun and curiosity.  It's a pretty cool test to find out your heritage and genetic predispositions.  (If interested:  We had quite a few discussions about the results and one of the topics that came up was earwax.  She is Korean and he is American.  Unknown to me was that Asians and Caucasians have different types of earwax and that this gene is also related to sweat production.  My world was just made bigger.  Perhaps this is the reason for the paucity of deodorant in Asian countries.  I had no idea.

I think about this every time I'm on a train or bus surrounded by Japanese people.  I'm the only one here with wet earwax.  It's a strangely intimate thing to know about somebody.  A secret no one was trying to keep, but now I know.  How many other curiosities have I not even considered?  How many things do we not even know that we don't know?  How ever many it is, it is one less than it was before.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Earwax and Hot Water

Summer is approaching, and I've yet to break my habit of finding comfort in a cup of hot water.  Sometimes I think I might be part Asian.  But I wear deodorant and have wet earwax, so I know that isn't really the case.  Maybe it'll get hot enough this summer that I will no longer enjoy my strange habit of hot water.  Or maybe my earwax will change.  Who can say?  I enjoy both my earwax and my hot water, but not usually at the same time.  It seems they need not be mutually exclusive nor concurrently enjoyed to exist in this world.  And that's a good thing, if you're me.  And maybe even if you're not.  The world is a pretty incredible place.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Change of Plans

Very recently I had the pleasure to spend a lot of time with my younger brother.  Siblings are pretty cool and I'm lucky to have two really great ones.  We're a little more grown-up now–a little–and it's validating to come to know one another as we make our way through life, seeing who we are becoming and how that relates to our own experiences and perceptions.

Today I had an experience in my current life–in Japan, at HPAC–that made me remember an earlier experience I had with my brother when we were children.  Before we thought it was a good idea to take overnight trains in Thailand and jump off boats in deep water, one Christmas long ago, we decided that we really wanted a dog.  We figured a dog would make our parents really happy, too, so we went to the pet store and bought lots of dog things with our combined saved money.  We even chose the poor canine that we had planned to buy two days before Christmas, thinking we would hide him in our room before the big surprise on Christmas morning.  What could go wrong?

Somehow they found out (I think it was David's fault).  And luckily so.  It would have been a surprise for sure and I don't think in the way that we would have hoped.  Our parents intervened, lovingly, and we, being the good and obedient children that we were, accepted, though not without heavy hearts.  A year or two later, our parents decided we should get a dog.  She wasn't wrapped in a Christmas box, and they were the ones driving the car to and from the shelter.

Sometimes things don't quite work out as planned, but that doesn't mean that they won't happen.  How many more fun ideas can we have?  How many more will go awry and find themselves again, in some other form?

Monday, June 3, 2013


Last night as I sat in the taxi, anxiously watching the meter and the GPS, my driver turned down the air.  It was an act of control.  I remember long late-night drives home to Lexington from Chicago, through endless Illinois and Indiana farmland, turning the radio dial from one country station to another in my '92 sky-blue Chrysler LeBaron.  It had been my grandmother's and after me it became my brother's.  A great car.

I haven't driven a car in probably over a year.  I can't remember the last time, actually.  I've been in cars, but I haven't had that feeling of control–foot on the gas, one hand on the wheel, the other adjusting the temperature or the tunes.  The world is speaking of driverless cars, these days.  What will it be like, to give up that control?

During my time in Thailand, I didn't even have control of a bike.  I learned control of scuba gear (well, sort of), but today I enjoyed, once again, the feeling of guiding two wheels beneath me, my version of a car, my trusty steed.

What to do with it?  On my way to HPAC, I chose to sit at one of my favorite red lights.  It's one of those timing things- I can't quite make it from one light to another.  So every time, I sit there.  I know that I could run it–the intersection is usually empty and all the other bikers run it in order to get a head start on the bridge before the cars–but I really like sitting there.

So in lieu of turning down the volume, I've learned a new appreciation of sitting at red lights and waiting at empty crosswalks.  For some reason it seems like a privilege to do so.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Returning to the Japanese Bow

And I'm back in Japan.  I write as I ride the Salad Express bus after a delayed flight out of Taipei.  We got here later than expected and I'm not sure if the city buses will still be running for me to take back home.  If not, it's going to be a luxurious taxi ride.  Maybe I'll stop at the convenient store and grab a bottle of wine to share with the driver, just so that we are both fully enjoying the fare.  The unexpected and unpredictable in travel and what it will require to amend can be stressful.  Or, I suppose, not.  I may as well enjoy the dancing tomatoes riding beneath me for the time being.  

And the recent memory, not 10 minutes old, of the luggage handler at the bus stop.  After two flights of chaotic queuing to board, zones disregarded, place in line ignored, I got to the bus stop at the Kansai airport and basked in the busy-ness of the the gentleman luggage handler.  He groomed our lines like an expert sheep herder, nipping at our heels with his gentle bows and guiding gloved hands.  He moved us closer together, organizing luggage between us, ensuring that each person was in the proper line for their destination.  When the bus came, the luggage was quickly put underneath, we boarded, and as expected, the instant the digital clock changed to 10:10, he looked to the driver and said, "Onegaishimas (if you please (it's time))," and bowed to him.  The driver then shut the door, and the luggage handler bowed again to the whole bus, a deep bow, until it started to drive away.  

My brother says this type of courtesy is over the top.  And maybe so.  But it paused my evening of stressful travel to see a person take a moment to give this sign of routine respect.  He broke his own personal sense of duty, his own seemingly compulsive concern of the tidiness of the other line and its luggage, in order to give us this bow.  And it opened a bow inside of me.  A reminder that our lives are serving a bigger purpose than our concerns might lead us to believe.  It's so hard to see this, to feel it at the end of long day, in the midst of uncertainty, at the time of any number of given challenges that we experience from the outside world and through which we put ourselves.  It can be hard to tell the difference, there real source of our challenges.

It was wonderful to get a taste of more of Asia.  Not only to be in another country, but to experience more of the diversity of the people on this continent; both those that lived there and those that joined me in my temporary tourist activities.  I feel very thankful to have Japan as my Asian home and I'm happy to return to it.  This way of living is something wonderful in which to be immersed, even if I know more and more that I'm calibrated as an American- I rejoice in that identity the more I see and experience.   America is my home, it's where I'm from, it's my upbringing.  But so too, is Japan becoming more and more my home.  And so too, do I feel great gratitude for the things that Japan is teaching me.  I hope they seep into me like my Americanness.  I hope I take them with me when I go.  

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Last Day in Bangkok and Thailand

Back where it all began, in room 305 at the Convenient Resort outside Suvarnabhumi Airport,
Bangkok.  It's more comfortable this time around.  My brother is here with me until his 2am departure, so I'm not fretting over his 2am arrival.  And over the past week I've become more accustomed to Thai standards.  It was a shock coming from Japan, but I've come to trust a little more in the haphazard lifestyle where fastidiousness, tidiness, careful redundancy, and gentle courtesy are not held in such virtuous regard.  Convenient Resort is now a familiar Thai home.  There are no bugs or lizards here, but I wouldn't shirk them should they care to join me for my final night.

Earlier today, my brother and I took it easy after our day in the Thai heat.  We went to the Jim Thompson home, a beautiful Thai house and garden built by an American expat in the mid-20th century who brought silk to Western culture.  We then took advantage of a Bangkok elevated train to see more of the city, traveling south into the business district, catching a boat on the river to go north, walking through some neighborhoods to find another train station and taking three more sightseeing public trains before arriving at the airport.  Strange how public transit and a large overview of the city can make one feel its fingerprint a little more acutely.  

And also to have a few more experiences with the people.  At times it can be both fun and irritating to be so conspicuous in Thailand.  Walking around with western features and a backpack it is impossible to avoid the aggressive helpfulness of the Thai people.  "Hey, where you going!"  It's more of a demand than a question.  Sometimes from taxi drivers, sometimes shop owners or just random people.  In the first few days I just ignored it and kept walking, but have since discovered that despite the forcefulness in their voice, they are strangely helpful and seemingly undemanding in wanting anything in return.  They fill a void in information that no Bangkok map will ever be able to feed.  The key to Bangkok's navigation lies in its people and a small trust that it is ok to tell them where you're headed.  They'll point you there, even if the overly solicitous taxi drivers haven't learned the meaning of, "no thank you."

I've really enjoyed the time here.  It's opened yet another way of living to my eyes, ears, nose (so many new smells!) and taste buds.  I've touched more of the natural resources and people in this world and had wonderful company in the meantime.  Tomorrow I'll spend a day traveling, once again practicing the art of saying goodbye.