Saturday, July 28, 2012

The easiest way to climb a mountain

Making use of our lovely shinkansen pass, we visited Kyoto for a couple of days.  "What do we need to see here," my daughter asked.  As Kyoto was one of the original capitals of the country and had been spared the fire-bombing raids which targeted many a city in WWII, I thought that akin to going to Washington, D.C. and asking a similar question.  Even in months you can't see everything.  I took them to see Kinkakuji--the golden temple--and Ryoanji--the famous rock garden--and then they wanted to, of all things, go see the monkey park.  It was pouring rain when we headed up this mountain.  We kept seeing signs about what to do if we saw a monkey--don't stare at it, don't pet it, don't throw rocks--but there weren't any live specimens.  Still the kids hiked on with greater enthusiasm than ever.  I kept thinking, all you have to do is give them hope of seeing monkey and they will run to the top.  I kept wondering if this was a trick.  The people coming down from the mountain did not appear particularly pleased.  And when I asked if they had seen any monkeys, they had not answered.  We did eventually make it to the top of the mountain where there were hundreds of monkeys waiting to be fed.  We spent hours there watching them on the top of this mountain over the city. It wouldn't have been something I would have thought to do, but it was lovely and peaceful.  And next time I want my kids to hike a mountain, I will just tell them there are monkeys at the top.

Friday, July 27, 2012

How close are we to Fukushima?

We called a dear friend, assuming she was still living in Tokyo.  She said she had returned to Koriyama (hometown) which is near Fukushima.  Would we come visit?  We immediately said we would, then wondered about radiation.  Surely, the radiation couldn't be too bad if she was living there.  We hopped on the shinkansen.  She picked us up and mentioned that life in Koriyama had been hard since the earthquake, with thousands of people leaving the city (esp. young children and expectant mothers). Businesses had suffered, schools had suffered. 
I said, "It is safe, isn't it?" 
"Oh sure," she said.  "But if you're worried...." She handed me a paper mask to put on my face.  Hmmmm.  That afternoon, she took us to see some 80-million-year-old caves.  The kids kept asking if we were moving closer or further from Fukushima.  But once we got to the area, all concern was lost as we explored the wonders of the caves.  And for the first time since the trip began, we were actually cold.  What a feeling.  At the exit to the caves, I saw something that looked like a time capsule.  Turned out it was a radiation detector, and it gave out the radiation levels for the day.  These radiation detectors popped up everywhere we went--and always made one a bit nervous.  What did the level mean?  My tech savvy kids figured out that up to 11 on the detector was safe (we never saw past 1.2).
Koriyama, by the way, used to be a backwater.  Full of people just scraping by.  It wasn't untl a hundred and thirty years ago, when some innovative types (including a foreigner) came in and showed the people how to irrigate the land.  It is now a lovely and thriving area.  Or it was....until the meltdown. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Alpaca With Meaning

We were able to get JR Rail passes--similar to Eurorail Passes.  It allowed us to ride on the shinkansen as much as we wanted.  The shinkansen is a dream.  It travels up to 200 miles per hour.  If we had one in California, I could visit my mother in just a little over an hour, rather than spending the entire day driving.  We went to visit some friends a couple hours northwest of Tokyo in Nagaoka. 
They took us to an amazing onsen in the mountains.  We soaked for hours, then were treated to a meal that was more like an art piece.  Dishes of every shape held different delicacies (six green beans in one dish, three pickles in another, two pieces of fresh fish in a third.)  Halfway through the meal, we were asked to go to the window of the restaurant.  Outside the window was a mountain and halfway up the mountain was a stage.  The owner of the onsen danced "Life is a Dream."  It was a dream.
The following day, we went to see bull-fighting.  Well, not really.  They weren't fighting the day we went.  But it was the place where bullfighting originated (thousands of years ago), back when there was no television, movies, entertainment of any kind. 
In 2004, the county suffered a huge earthquake.  In fact our friend said he was lucky to have been off with his family visiting their summer home. Otherwise they would have been stuck in town where there was no electiricity or water for three weeks. 
During this disaster,  a person in Colorado sent the people of the area some alpacas, as a way of saying, "Stick with it.  Don't give up."  It seemed a kind of out-of-nowhere kind of gift, but has turned into one of real meaning.  Recently, the people of Nagaoka sent the people in Fukushima a couple of Alpaca as a way of telling them to Stick with It.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Hokey Pokey Purification Dance

The other day, had another small miracle.  I got to see three Japanese friends I'd known in Singapore, Japan, the US, and who now live in Tokyo.  It felt like a time warp.  A dream.
They took us to Iidabshii to visit a special shrine which is all the rage in Japan--a shrine where you pray for the power of love.  It was filled with young women, and my two sons were two of the only men there, much to their embarassment.  They weren't quite sure what to do and weren't quite sure how this shrine differed from the other one we had gone to.  I wasn't either, except that this one didn't have the bamboo circle.
At the first regular old shrine, there was a Tori gate at the entrance and our friends were all excited to see this large round circle made of bamboo.  It was large enough to walk through, and there were directions right next to it.  Bow, walk in to the left and circle back around.  Bow again, walk through to the right and circle back around.  Bow again, walk through to the left and circle back around.  Bow and walk forward to make your prayer. 
For some reason I kept thinking of the Hokey-Pokey.  Walk around to the left. Bow. Around to the right. Bow.  Do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around.  I asked our friends what this was all about--they had no idea. 
I said, "Perhaps it is a practical joke to see how many people will just follow the directions, no matter how silly they seem." 
Oh, no, no, no. 
One of our friends asked a person working at the shrine.  Apparently it is for purification, and by doing the left-right-left dance you become pure before meeting God.  They only put it out twice a year.  So we were lucky to have had this chance.
It seemed funny. (Before I started thinking of all the similar ridiculous motions I've gone through in churches--sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.)  If purification is the pronouncement, I'll dance.:)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Naked with Strangers and Loving it

Where in the world would you invite a friend you haven't seen for years to bathe naked with you for hours on end?  That would be Japan.

At the onsen--a public bathing area--men and women go to their respective areas, shed their clothes, wash off under spigots, then soak in various hot baths which are created from hot springs.  My husband said we were going there with uncle and aunty, and even a male friend who was planning to stop by to meet us after his work.  My eldest son picked up his bathing suit.

"Oh, you won't need that," my husband said.
My son's eyes grew wide.  "I don't think I want to go," he said.  "I'll just wait here."
"Don't be a wuss."  Younger brother said.  He was at a hot springs two years ago and got to be the voice of experience. 
All the way there, nervous voices asked what was going to happen.  But, once we got there, we couldn't drag the kids out.  Is that a familar bath story?
We've been fortunate to bump into onsen--hot springs all along our trip.  And unlike the usual bath story, as soon as I say the word "onsen,"  I have everyone's full attention and cooperation.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

An Amazing Retrieval

This morning--before the sun rose--we arrived at Haneda airport, Japan.  Six passengers/10 pieces of luggage.  We weren't quite sure where we were going--a general direction of Saitama (countryside) to visit my sister-in-law.  However, we weren't clear on how to get there.  So we lolligagged as long as possible, eating breakfast, drinking tea in the aiport restaurant.  Then we headed for the monorail, which took us to a train, then five sets of stairs (fortunately all down), then a subway, more stairs, another train.  Four hours later we were at my sister-in-law's station.   She took us home, and my brother-in-law cracked a carton of juice for us.  My daughter took one sip and raced outside. 
"What's the matter?"  I called.
My brother-in-law looked up, concerned.
"Are you alright?" I called again.
"My retainer," she said, tears forming.  "I don't have my retainer."
She had left her retainer in a napkin on the table in the restaurant at the airport. 
Oh, gosh.  We'd never find that.  Never.
My older daughter said,  "I think you better translate this debacle, cause he thinks she just doesn't like the juice."
I had to laugh.  And gladly told my brother-in-law the problem.  He said,  "Don't worry,"  picked up the phone and called the airport.  He described the restaurant and the retainer.  They had it.  We all did a little dance while he stayed on the phone.  Apparently, in order to release the retainer, they needed a note complete with address and signature and instructions.  After getting my younger daughter's signature, he raced out the door, insisting it wasn't far.  He was back three hours later with the retainer.  I'm still amazed. And so grateful.

What People Are Saying About My Half of the Sky

My Half of the Sky was the BookSense Pick for August 2006 as well as a Forbes Book Club Pick.

"McBurney-Lin tells a wonderfully entertaining story with the traditional coming-of-age theme (which is experienced universally)...weaving in the cultural challenges of growing up in China's rapidly changing social system."
Mary Warpeha, co-President of the Minnesota Chapter of US-China Friendship Association
March 2010

"The novel ...includes many of the tales and the folk ways of the people living in the rural areas of South China, still followed provincially. The story takes place in current China, but could relate the dilemma of any young woman in rural China through the ages."
Kitty Trescott, National Board of the Midwest Region of US-China Friendship Association. March 2010

"A lot is expected of a young Chinese girl. My Half of the Sky by Jana McBurney-Lin is the story of Li Hui, a young girl who has just achieved marriageable age. She seeks to make the most of herself, but the expectations all around her make it difficult, as her parents seek to use her as pawn to their advantage, she is faced with what she believes to be true love. She must balance career, romance, and family, all to somehow make everyone happy, a tough endeavor indeed. An engaging and entertaining read from beginning to end, "My Half of the Sky" is a poignant tale of the modern Chinese woman, and recommended for community library collections.
--Midwest Book Review November, 2008

“It is a rare women’s novel that sensitively describes the life of a young educated woman in modern-day China in its full complexity, without resorting to unnecessary sentimentalism. Jana’s deep knowledge of the realities of life in China and Singapore makes the reading extra rewarding. In fact, with every new page the novel gets harder to put down and you find yourself gobbling it up before you know it. Finally, the author has given a voice to the Li Hui in all of us, as we struggle for the golden middle between tradition and the modern momentum of our world.”
Isabella Sluzek
Friends of the Museum Book Review 2008

You'll be rooting all the way for Li Hui as she struggles, ahead of the curve, to be her own woman in an emerging, modern China. Jana McBurney-Lin's My half of the Sky is a beautiful, witty, touching debut novel.
Thomas B. Sawyer
Head Writer TV Series "Murder, She Wrote,"
Author - The Sixteenth Man

A complex and mesmerizingly original tale of a young Chinese woman caught between the modern world and the pull of her ancient culture. McBurney-Lin’s intimate portrait of China sparks with insights and is peopled with characters so rich and alive, they seem to breathe on the page. Dazzling and unforgettable.
Caroline Leavitt,
Author - Girls in Trouble

McBurney-Lin's debut novel is a gift. Li Hui is a memorable heroine, a young woman torn between her heart and her culture.Her daunting journey is a trip into China's complicated soul, and a deeply moving exploration of love, honor, duty, and loss." Frank Baldwin, Author - Balling the Jack

My Half of the Sky is a wonderfully-crafted story that was obviously written with a piece of McBurney-Lin's heart. A masterpiece."
Lee Lofland, Author - Howdunit: Police Procedure and Investigation

My Half of the Sky heralds the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller. With artistry and precision, Jana McBurney-Lin's clear-eyed prose takes the reader on a new journey into a past world that speaks to a modern sensibility, a modern world, a modern woman. This is a book to be treasured.
Emily Rapp, Author - The Poster Child

Through vivid descriptions of sights and smells, Jana McBurney-Lin's My Half of the Sky is a haunting, emotional journey of what it means to be an honorable female in modern China. Jill Ferguson, Author - Sometimes Art Can't Save You