When You Live Across The Globe…

I love living in Japan.  Truly I love it here.  I love the people; I love the standard of service; I love the food; and I even love the Tokyo lifestyle pace.  But there are definitely days when I don’t like it.  Last week was one of those times.

My parents live in Florida in the U.S.  It’s not where I’m from; I grew up in Connecticut and my parents intended to retire in Florida.  They moved to Florida, but the retirement hasn’t happened yet.  They’ve been there for about five years now.  My mom still works as a kindergarten teacher in the Broward County School system (bless her) and Dad is a corporate travel consultant.

Two Mondays ago when I couldn’t reach them at home on a Sunday night, I didn’t really worry.  But it turns out that when they called me back Monday afternoon Tokyo time, it was from the emergency room.  I’m not going to go into the nature of Dad’s illness in a public way, but suffice it to say that the medications he was taking, along with the dosages, were causing some pretty hairy issues.   Mom felt it would be prudent to call the EMS, and I am glad she did.

After hanging up the phone with them, I called my husband right away.  My next call after that was to Delta airlines and I booked a flight for Tuesday.  There was no question in my mind that I had to be there with them.  Yes, I have a brother, and yes, he lives only three hours away by car, but no, I couldn’t just let him go and stay home myself.  Not this time.

I arrived Tuesday night American time and we were able to bring Dad home from the hospital Wednesday afternoon.  So that was a relief.  He saw his family doctor on Thursday and things were getting sorted out by the time I left the following Tuesday, November 2nd.  I helped them in a number of ways, including making lists of Dad’s medications, research on doctors and hospitals, insurance research and information, and other less medically related things including taking my grandmother and my grandfather, both of whom live independently, but are in the charge of my parents, out for a meal.

It was difficult.  It was hard on my kids, who luckily have the best nanny in the universe, but were still without their mother and it was hard on my husband who had to work and pick up my slack.  It was hard on my body because between jet-lag and worry, I did not sleep the entire week I was away.  And in a way, it was tough on my parents, who, for the first time, had to admit to some bit of imperfection and that they might need to lean on their child in even a small manner.

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Luckily, the world is getting smaller and smaller these days and we have things like Vonage Internet Telephony and Skype, but there is no substitute for being there.  I was able to hug my mom and my dad and they could hug me.  My Dad even called my daughter when he got home from the hospital and thanked her for loaning her mother to him.   The flights were long, but not terrible and I was able to get one quickly – at the times that I preferred.  Luck? Who knows. But it happened.

So my silence in the past week has been for cause, please forgive me.  I am just happy to be back in Tokyo, my home, with parents who are well again and children who are happy.  It is tough to live across the globe from my close-knit, in-your-face family, but it doesn’t have to deter me when I really need to get somewhere.  How lucky I am.


Walmart – OMG!

This week I have had the occasion to go into Walmart not once, but twice.  The first time I had to buy a cheapie cell-phone into which I placed my SIM card because my regular cell phone is broken and the new one will be delivered on Tuesday.  The second time, I agreed to buy my daughter a Barbie Doll after she did some particular difficult tasks.  (Hey, bribery works – but that’s a comment for another day…) Both times, the experience was a cross between wickedly scary and awe-inspiring.

Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, according to their own hype.  They do own a majority stake in the Japanese supermarket, Seiyu, the purchase of which caused it to be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2007. Walmart, as in every country in which it exists, has a huge commitment to giving back to the community in the forms of various charities and charitable networks.

But what Walmart is still learning, from my point of view, is that every country, every culture is different.  The big-box store does not fly in Japan.  Costco loses money there and Walmart is not having luck with bringing its American model to the country.  Japan continues to be the land of the mom-and-pop shop, where personalized service still outweighs the perceived value of the large, one-stop-shopping style-store.

When I went to Walmart today, I bought bread, milk, coffee, a set of bed-sheets, two t-shirts for my son, and a Barbie Doll.  Talk about variety!  Each section of the store is well-marked with bright signage hanging from what feels like a thirty-foot ceiling.  Fluorescent lighting beckons shoppers in to spend money, and leaves them blinking furiously when they emerge back into the natural light outside.    The merchandise is organized by color and style, in appealing displays and designs.  Everything is light, airy, open, and simply humungous.  When my daughter was pushing the cart around in the spacious store, we overheard a lady complaining about the narrow aisles.  It was on the tip of my tongue to shout, “you ain’t seen nothin’ ‘til you’ve been to Tokyo, lady!”  But I didn’t.  The lady wouldn’t have cared.

In Japan, stores are small, aisles within stores are small, and the staff is kind, friendly, omnipresent, but never pushy.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I saw a staff member beyond those behind registers at Walmart.  Shopping in Japan and shopping in the U.S. are totally different experiences, as illustrated by my Walmart extravaganza.  In Japan everything is on a smaller scale and in the U.S. it is the opposite.  It’s illustrative of the culture of the people.  And that is perfectly fine

I find Walmart totally overwhelming these days, and perhaps I will never be able to fully appreciate a big-box store again, even after I move back to the U.S. in a few years.  Hm, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.  It’s all about perspective and perception, and perhaps mine is changing.