All posts by carolkubota

I am a retired ESL teacher. I have a dog that owns me. I travel to learn about a culture. I want to share my stories with you. Come along with me!

Arcosanti: Is it a future living space?

Entrance to Arcosanti (Carol Kubota)

Imagine living with six thousand people in the middle of the desert. Your housing unit is stacked on top of another making the building a honeycomb structure.

Living quarters and the amphitheater ( Carol Kubota)

You would take part in musical performances in the lower levels of the structure. This structure fills up with water during a performance. The water comes from below the surface.

You have a kitchen to prepare your food. The nearest town with a village supermarket is fifteen miles away. The road is not paved and has mud crevices on both sides. Not a place you want to travel after or during a rain. You and your 5,999 neighbors would grow all of the food you need to eat in the middle of the desert and not much grows without an underground water source. A community cafeteria prepares food where you can sit and eat and get along with all of your neighbors. There is only one problem. The cook left because there was no money to pay him and now the cafeteria is empty. There is a coke machine with a few bottles of soda and water.

The design studio (Carol Kubota)

Paolo Solari, an Italian and an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, planned to build a futuristic utopian city. No cars or any other types of public transportation would exist. Volunteers, artists, and concrete people would volunteer to make the place come alive.

It didn’t work out the way Solari planned. He was short on money. The volunteers had no money and were working for a free space to live. They built the walls from concrete, silt dug up from the desert soil. Solari like his teacher and mentor Frank Lloyd Wright built with concrete cast in the earth. They were both organic architects. Solari’s vision was to develop a civilization, Wright’s vision was to develop for urbanization. Solari referred to Wright’s vision as a failure.

The desert view from the community room (Carol Kubota)

Olive and fig trees provide shade for the summer and help to keep the buildings cool. The total land space is 4400 acres. The people who live here are part of an urban experiment. Seventy-five people inhabit the limited living space. Students live in the upper apartments in shared spaces and don’t have cooking facilities in their rooms. They have a bed, a desk, and a lamp and very few personal items. Our tour guide lives in one of the shared spaces. She makes $250 per month from tips that the guests leave with her after the tour. Her rent is free and she works eight hours a day. She lives here because she feels that there is too much stimulation in the outside world. She likes the peacefulness of her living situation. She doesn’t feel lonely because there is always someone to talk too. Every window in the living quarters looks out onto the untouched desert. There is a trail that leads to the bottom of the gorge.

Look out from the cafeteria window (Carol Kubota)

Solari’s idea sprung from “arcology”. Architecture and ecology, a field of creating architectural design principles for densely populated ecologically low impact human habitats. There is shading in summer and a greenhouse effect is used for heat in the winter. The idea is to densify the living space and conserve the natural environment. The place is isolated. There is experimental gardening. The idea is to grow up, not out. There are an amphitheater and performance center. Different activities take place during the year and the public is invited to attend. The idea is that arcology settlements could solve the problems that society deals with. Loneliness, spending too much money, becoming greedy, and only thinking about yourself. The money earned to keep the place up is the sale of Solari’s bells which are made on site.

A living space designed for shade (Carol Kubota)

The occupants of the buildings share in the cleaning of the public spaces. There are no janitors, policemen, doctors, or hospitals. People take care of each other. The people who live here are the CEO, painters, potters, an art instructor who travels to Prescott to teach in a community college. One child lives on campus and is home schooled. The rent and the cost of living are low and the pay is minimal.

The “city” is being built without money or professionals. Failure and success are part of the deal. How can the next step be made more promising than the last?

Hope is never lost (Carol Kubota)

Solari passed away and left his people to figure out how to proceed without him. His dream and vision live on. There is no foundation to guide everyone. The current CEO has been on the board for less than one year.

The lessons we can learn on the impact of human habitation or any given ecosystem could be self-sustenance to reduce the human impact on natural resources. Pedestrian economies have proven to be difficult to achieve in other ways. Can society move backward?

Arcosanti was established in 1970 and is still a work in progress.

A vision of the future in the middle of the Arizona desert (Carol Kubota)

Arcosanti is located on I75 going North. The road leading to Arcosanti is not paved. The entrance fee is a donation of $10 per person. There are no eating or drinking facilities on the campus. You can take your dog on the tour.

Taliesin West: 10 True Facts

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home, is located in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of Arizona’s first “snowbirds”arriving in early October and returning to his summer home in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

  1. Taliesin West became a UNESCO World Heritage site on July 7, 2019
Entrance to Taliesin West (Carol Kubota)

2. The Desert Lab

Mr. Wright bought six hundred acres for $3.75 an acre in 1936. He described the view as “a look over the rim of the world”.

He referred to Taliesin as his Desert Lab. He devised a “light canvas-covered redwood frame-work resting on massive stone masonry that belonged to the mountain slopes around the property”. It was his first time to use desert construction materials.

He used a trial and error form of building. He built a wall and if it fell down, he would reconstruct until the wall held it’s form. He never tired of trying new experiments with new material. He had to use steel instead of redwood because it could not adapt to the desert elements. The desert was dry and the redwood splintered.

Taliesin Quartzite (Carol Kubota)

3. Ship in the Desert

Frank Lloyd Wright spent time on ships going back and forth to Europe and Asia. He traveled to Europe with his girlfriend, Mamah Bouton Bothwick.

She was murdered by a disgruntled employee when he set fire to Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

He was also able to escape his creditors while sailing across the ocean. There were no cell phones at the time.

A Ship in the Desert (Carol Kubota)

4. The Apprentices built Taliesin for Mr. Wright

Mr. Wright had between fifteen to thirty apprentices working without pay. Some of his detractors referred to it as slavery. The apprentices stayed for four to five months, others came and never left.

They worked in the shadow of Frank Lloyd Wright and few well known architects emerged from his group. The apprentices paid up to $1,100.00 per year for room and board.

There are three senor apprentices in their early nineties living on campus.

Apprentices working (Taken in KIVA room by Carol Kubota)

5. The School of Architecture at Taliesin

Taliesin West is the home to the School of Architecture at Taliesin. It is the smallest school of Architecture in the United States, thirty -forty students per year.

The students attend classes from October to May and return to Spring Green for summer classes.

The school offers a three year Masters Program in Architecture. It is small, experimental, and focused on learning by doing. It became fully accredited in 1987.

School of Architecture at Taliesin (Carol Kubota)

6. A collector of Asian art

Frank Lloyd was know for being one of the biggest collectors of Asian art in the 1920 -1930. Much of his collection is now housed with the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City.

Asian art had a big impact on the design of his buildings. Taliesin West brings out both the Asian and Southwest influence that inspired Mr. Right.

Mr. Wrights apprentices acquired twenty four Asian pieces in Chinatown, San Francisco. Their heads were chopped off along with their arms and noses. These pieces were placed in areas of transition on the property of Taliesin West.

Asian Transition with red plaque (Carol Kubota)

The red plaque has the signature of Mr. Wright. There are twenty-seven around the USA. Mr. Wright handed them out to people who were enthusiastic about the work he had performed in building their home. He not only built their home and their furniture, he told them where to place the furniture. They were told to never move it.

Those are the people awarded the special red signature plaque.

7. The Garden Room

The Garden Room has a view of the mountains and the desert scenery.

It was the place of entertainment. Mr. Wright required that his female apprentices wear evening gowns and the males wear three piece suits when he entertained clients in the Garden Room. They paraded around with the snacks and drinks serving the many famous clients who visited Mr. Wright.

When the Garden Room was first built, there were no windows. The roof was covered with canvas which was removed when they packed up to move back to Wisconsin.

Frank Lloyd Wright was the first to create a Great Room. The Garden Room is a Great Room, a place to entertain his clients.

The Garden Room (Carol Kubota)

8. Mr. Wright’s Office

The office was the the first building on campus.

The office didn’t have windows for almost five years. When the Wrights left town the dust storms and small animals would leave a mess that had to be cleaned up when they returned. Mrs. Wright suggested they add windows. The other buildings began to get windows soon after.

The Guggenheim Museum and Grady Gammage Auditorium on Arizona State University’s campus along with many private homes were designed in this room.

The design in the background was submitted by Mr. Wright in 1957 to the city of Phoenix as a replacement for the current capital building. It never happened. He was ninety years old at the time.

The six sided chairs were designed for the first Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

The round back chairs were designed for the Midway Gardens outside of Chicago that was closed down in the 1920’s because of prohibition.

9. Shining Brow

Taliesin means Shining Brow. Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t believe one should build on top of a mountain, but in the brow of the mountain.

The building at Taliesin can’t be seen until the gate is in view. This was part of the organic architectural design of Mr. Wright.

The logo for Taliesin is in the shape of a whirling arrow on the petroglyph in front of the entrance to the office. Mr. Wright noticed that the logo is in the shape of two hands clasping together in a welcome sign. There are five petroglyphs placed around the campus. All of them were found on the property.

Logo on the left symbolizing a welcome sign (Carol Kubota)

10. Desert Shelters

Students of the School of Architecture live as the apprentices long before them in desert shelters. There are sixty-four of them and students choose which one is going to be there home for six months. The shelters are built with the same materials used by the apprentices, quartzite, sand, glass, redwood or steel, and canvas.

There is no electricity, plumbing, or drinking water. The students come into the locker area to shower and use the bathroom. Many of the students have installed solar panels to help them charge their cell phones and other electronic gadgets.

Students are required to remodel one of the shelters for their thesis statement .

A student shelter with a fireplace (Carol Kubota)
Another student shelter (Carol Kubota)
Student shelter (Carol Kubota)
The party shelter (Carol Kubota)

11. The Dinner Bell

The dinner bell rings at 12:30 for lunch and 6:30 p.m. for dinner. Students and those who reside on campus eat together in the dining room.

Dinner Bell (Carol Kubota)

Taliesin West is a unique place to visit. You can take photos, sit on the furniture, and admire the scenery. Tours are given everyday with reservations.

Irish: A Story on Immigration

Lush green fields dotted with sheep, mountain high cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and waves lapping at the foot of the cliffs. Scenic views that call those with a bit of Irish blood from around the world to come and visit. It’s a peaceful place. A place to sit on one of the hills and listen to the splashing water, meditate, and wonder how life used to be in this idyllic situation.

The windowless hallway leads the way; steel doors sealed shut with padlocks. I bump into someone, a member of my tour. We are in prison, but at the end of the tour, we will be out of prison. Unlike the men, women, and children who spent days, months, and years in this prison for stealing food because they were starving.

Ireland experienced a very dark time in its history. Men could not make the payments on the rents of their homes owned by English landlords who lived not in Ireland but England. The Great Famine also referred to as the Great Hunger began in 1845 with a pest infecting the potatoes. Potatoes turned black and the farmers lost their only source of income.

The English grabbed healthy potatoes and sent them to England. The Irish had only the rotten potatoes to feed their families. Irish men had only a few choices left for supporting their families. They worked in pensions owned by the English. They gave up their land and possessions to gain admittance to the pensions which paid little.  Irish women had to seek food and shelter for their children. They became desperate and began to steal to provide food for their families.

The families were left destitute and ended up in prison.

This was a time when families collected money from their relatives and took out loans to send their children to North America to find jobs because there were none in Ireland. Tourists who visit Ireland go to the Guinness beer museum, hike in the lush grass, and eat at the numerous bars and restaurants. Not many people venture into the dark history of Ireland’s past, something that should not be forgotten.

Early immigration began with the Irish seeking a better life. No different than those traveling now to the US seeking a better experience. No one wanted the Irish when they first arrived to the US. They were dirty and known for drinking and being lazy. The same view people have of the recent asylum seekers to the U.S. They are criminals, lazy, and must be feared. These people are no different from the Irish. They are fleeing poverty, political problems, and crime. 

Tourists go to Ireland because they want to drink and have fun. Some go to look for their roots, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Visits to cemeteries and small villages give them a small window to look into and get a glimpse of what life may have been.

I saw people with freckles and red hair, and I found people who were darker in color. Immigrants from Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Arab.  East Indians owned the local hotel where I stayed.

The US government has caused a severe problem. Keeping people from crossing the border is no different than keeping the Irish immigrants on their ships and refusing them permission to embark on American soil. They were said to have diseases. Some of them died on the boat before they were able to get much needed medical help.

Now, we celebrate the Irish. We have big parades on St Patrick’s day. We turn many lakes and rivers green. Every one declares they are Irish even if they aren’t. The US has more Irish living here than in the country of Ireland. Some of these recent immigrants are returning to Ireland. Life in the US is not what they want. Ireland has become more prosperous and can offer high tech jobs.

The immigrants coming to the U.S. are of color. Our current government wants to keep them out. This is sad and neglectful. We have no right to discriminate against those who are not white.

Let’s not forget why Irish parents were willing to send their teenage sons and daughter on a ship so far away. For the same reasons, people do it today: better opportunities in education and employment. They want their children to do better than what they can do in their own countries because of corruption, crime, and poverty.

Think about that when you go to Ireland and drink glass after glass of Guinness beer.

The Misplaced Passport

I am never late. I arrive thirty minutes early for lunch, dinner dates, lectures, doctor’s appointments, and classes. I arrive at the airport two hours before my flight is scheduled to take off. I want to avoid possible traffic tickets, flat tires, traffic jams, and car accidents. Today I am thankful to arrive early.

My flight from Heathrow airport was scheduled to take off at 8:30 am.

I got a hotel near the airport. I had to check in three hours before because it was an International flight. I scheduled the hotel shuttle to pick me up at 5:00 am. I didn’t sleep well.

I am always afraid I will miss the plane.

The alarm blasted at 4:00 a.m. I got dressed and went to the lobby to wait for my ride. I packed my bag the night before. I checked the areas around the room to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind and I felt confident everything was stored in my backpack and carry on lugage. I turned in my keys and waited for the shuttle to arrive. It was a fifteen-minute ride to the airport.

Upon arriving at the airport I unzipped my backpack to retrieve my passport. It wasn’t there. I kept it in a pouch that is thief resistant. That is what the advertisement said. I went into a panic attack. I opened up my suitcase which was locked. I located the key, unlocked the suitcase, and unzipped the entire bag and set it on the floor. There were a few people who looked at me as if I were crazy. I was crazy. What would I do if I couldn’t find my passport? Would I be delayed? How would I prove I was a US citizen? I would have to stay in London until I got a new passport. Maybe they would detain me. Would they put me in jail? My eyes filled with tears.

I took out all of my clothes and laid them on the unoccupied seats. I put my hand in all of the pockets. I unzipped every pocket of the bag. Nothing. I proceeded to pack my bag again. People were staring at me. I wonder what they thought. What is this crazy lady looking for? I zipped up my bag and locked it.  What do I do now?

I dumped the contents of my backpack on the seat. I put my hand in every single pocket once again. Nothing. I couldn’t find my passport. I sat down and took and deep breath. I prayed to God and asked Sumio to tell me where it was. I reached over to my bag and gave it one last go over. I stuck my hand in the front pocket and there it was. Why was it there? I never put my passport in that pocket.

I cried. The people around me were relieved. I looked up and smiled. They smiled back. I thanked God and Sumio and went on my way clutching on to my passport never letting it out of my sight again.

The departure schedule with my flight number was not available yet. I rushed towards the gate where it might take off. A young man was sitting there with his cell phone in his hand.

I asked him “Are you catching the flight to Chicago?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know the departure gate for the flight?”

“They don’t post until thirty minutes before the departure time. It will be one of these gates.”

“Thank you.”

My stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten anything all morning. I located a coffee shop and ordered a coffee and scone. The scone was dry and the coffee was bitter.

There was nothing more to worry about. It was now the pilot’s responsibility to get me to Chicago.

I checked my bag one more time and grabbed on to my passport. I was safe!

7 Reasons I Rarely Take my Cocker Spaniel on Vacation

1.She’s too big to smuggle into the hotel room.

Hotels charge pet fees from $5 – $50 . There are no set fees for pets. Each hotel chooses the fee and it’s not refundable. Airbnbs charge up to $300 for a refundable fee. La Quinta is one hotel chain that does not charge a fee for your pet.

Chloe on hotel bed

2. She can’t fly with me

I don’t want to put her in the cargo area. She would be afraid.

She doesn’t fit under the seat in front of me. She has to travel in a carrier with the baggage under the plane. If the temperature is too hot or too cold she can’t fly.

If I get bumped from my flight, I have to find a flight for her.

3. Dogs can’t stay in cars in the hot summer or cold winter

I can’t take my dog into a gas station or a Starbucks if I have to go to the restroom. I have to leave her in the car. This is not an option if it is a hot summer day.

I did this once and came out to find three women threatening to call the police.

Dogs waiting for parents

4. I can only take her to restaurants that have patios.

Most restaurants don’t allow dogs inside. This limits me to outdoor seating. I call ahead to ask if there is patio seating.

Hamburgers in Sedona, Az

5. She doesn’t like long hikes or walks

She gets tired of hiking and I have to carry her.

6. Chloe doesn’t like selfies

7. Chloe can’t enter museums or stores

I can’t visit any attractions because Chloe is not allowed. I can’t leave her in the car because it is too hot. Chloe cries and howls when I leave her alone.

Chloe likes to stay home

Writing for Bereavement

I don’t need bereavement counseling!

This is what I said to myself the day after Sumio went to heaven. It’s not that anyone suggested that I attend. I never thought about it.

I don’t want to express my feelings about the death of my husband with a group of women who have the same loss. 

I stopped going to confession in the Catholic Church when they started group confessions. Why should I sit with a group of people and confess my sins?

Confession should be private. I remember confession in my Catholic elementary school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH). 

Line up outside of the confessional box, keep your hands folded, and don’t talk to anyone in line. Wait for the person in front of you to exit the confessional box. Enter quietly, kneel on the kneeler, wait for the priest to open the window, and confess your sins for the week.  

My sins: I disobeyed my mother ten times, hit my brothers twenty times and lied fourteen times.

We weren’t allowed to see the priest’s face and he couldn’t see ours. It was a secret. The problem was these priests visited our house and had dinner often. They knew my voice and I knew theirs. We would receive our penances and quickly share them with the others waiting outside for their turn. We went to confession every Friday.

I don’t remember when I stopped going to confession. It was probably after I graduated from Catholic High School. I went to Mexico City for five years and no one I knew went to church. I had a German/Spanish/Mexican boyfriend whose family went to church every Sunday. He didn’t. I came back to the United States and went back to church. That is when I was informed of the changes in the confessional room. I chose not to participate. Why would I want to share my sins with others?

My way of dealing with the death of Sumio was to write. Eight months before he passed he kept a journal. He wrote entries about the food he ate, how he was feeling from the chemo, and expressed his love for me. He wanted me to write an answer below his entries. Lisa, our daughter sent messages by email. He would print them out, cut them up, and paste them in his journal. He did this until the day before he was gone.

I continued to write messages in his journal every day. This was my way of grieving. I did it alone and I did it my way.

My writing career, well not a career yet, started with Sumio. Now, I want to tell his story.

This is my dilemma. Writers usually start writing when they are young and it becomes their passion. I started late. Two years ago after I retired from teaching. I am trying to catch up. I don’t know how I want to write the story. I have tried memoir, but seem to suck at it. Not enough details, present or past, first person or third, and ten pages for each chapter.

Writing is creative, they say. Just write. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Just write. I used to be a grammar teacher. Grammar is important and so is spelling. It’s the creative part that gets me stuck. How can I become more creative?

I attend one-week writing workshops and weekend conferences whenever I can. I am taking an online program in creative non-fiction and a six week, once a week, two-hour session on writing my story. 

I am hoping with this class that I can improve my creative skills. I sometimes think that writers are born with these skills. I wasn’t. I am hoping my skills are hiding somewhere and will reveal themselves soon. For now, I will just write what comes into my head and maybe someday it will all make sense.

I might not write a memoir, but I could write flash non-fiction or short stories.

My writing is my way of dealing with bereavement.

Could You Walk One Thousand Miles?

“Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”

— Khaled Hosseini

Do you have a job?
Do you have food in the refrigerator to cook your meals?
Do you have a bed to sleep in?
Do your children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren go to school?
Do you have a safe place to hang out in your home?

You are lucky!

Imagine if armed men arrived at your front door, stormed in without permission, drug you outside and shot you in front of your children
Imagine if these men reentered the house and raped your wife and terrorized your children
Imagine if your wife decided to walk one thousand miles to the US border to seek safety for her children
Imagine if the border guard took her children away from her and sent them to separate detention centers
Imagine your children ages five months to fifteen years old alone in cage-like settings with no adult supervision
Imagine children the age of six taking care of children who are between the ages of one to twelve
Imagine your children dying of an illness that was not taken care of while they were in detention camps

Maybe you can’t imagine these scenes. Maybe you block it out of your mind.

You are lucky!

Imagine the US president declares war on Iran
Imagine he requires all men over the age of eighteen to register for the draft
Imagine packing up your life and moving to Canada
Imagine the Canadian border patrol separating your children from you and putting them in detention camps
Imagine your children not being taken care of because you are trying to seek asylum

Maybe you can say this will never happen to you. I was a High School student during the Vietnam War. I knew young men that would go to Canada to escape the draft.

People look for safety, shelter, food, jobs, and educational possibilities for their children.
There are countries that don’t provide these necessities. People are being run out of their towns because of religious differences, lack of employment, regimes of terror, and lack of freedom.

Do you not think that richer countries have the responsibility and empathy to help them out?
Do you call yourself a Christian? What would Jesus do in this situation? He would welcome, feed, and take care of those in need.

Yes, there are bad apples in every group. The US has decided that all of the refugees are bad apples. They have been referred to as an “infestation, animals, rapists, terrorists and more”. A woman arriving at the border with a baby in her arms holding on to the hand of a three-year-old is not a threat to anyone. A man who is carrying a child on his back for one thousand miles and holding the hands of two other children is not a terrorist, rapist or drug dealer.

Children are living alone with other children. They are not being provided with toothbrushes, soap, or blankets. Toothbrushes are considered a luxury by some of those in our government. They don’t take showers or wash their clothes. This is not humane. The US government let this happen. When are they going to fix this problem?

Put these children back with their parents. Oh, I forgot, you didn’t keep track of their parents and now you don’t know where their parents are.

The US government should be ashamed of themselves. Oh sorry, not this government. They have no shame.

Are you angry at how the President is handling this situation?
Do you think these people are criminals and should be punished?
Do you think these people should be given the chance to start a new life in the US?
Do you have a solution to the problem?

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this article. Now you can turn on the TV, read a book, or write a letter to your senator about how you feel.
Maybe you want to forget you ever read this article. Maybe you don’t want to answer the questions posed.

You are in a safe place. Turn off the lights, take a shower, and climb into your cozy bed. You don’t have to worry about the necessities, you have them.

It is our moral responsibility as citizens of the US to provide care for refugees, immigrants, and the poor who live among us.

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

— Emma Lazarus

Mind the Gap: 7 Tips on Traveling Around England

Before I set off for England as a solo traveler, I tried to search for information on using trains and the subway for getting around. I wasn’t able to dig up any useful information. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places. After spending three weeks in England, I have the knowledge to give to anyone who is planning a trip of their own.

England was easy to navigate. I am one to easily get lost. I spent the first day wandering the streets for about eight hours. I got lost, but with the help of locals was able to find my way back to my hotel every night. I spent four days in London, three days in Cambridge, three days in Oxford, three days in Bath, and one week in Hebden Bridge.

1. The London Pass

You can buy the London Pass online before you arrive. Print out the receipt which will have a barcode. You must go to the London Pass office in Trafalgar Square to get your pass. You will not be able to use the barcode on the receipt for entry into any of the sites. You must have a blue card, the London pass. The pass allows you to visit up to thirty sites for free.

The two-day pass allows for riding the Hop-on Hop-off bus for one day, 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. You can’t ride the bus the following day. The second day allows you to visit the sites listed in the guide book given to you when you get your London Pass.

There wasn’t any real-time commentary on the bus. You can collect blue earbuds when you enter the bus, and everything is prerecorded. I highly recommend going to pick up your pass when they open and get on the first bus. The traffic in London will hold you back for about an hour.

Note: In many countries and cities, the Hop on Hop off buses are red. All of the public buses in England are red. The Hop on Hop off in London is blue. It’s easy to get confused.

2. The Oyster Card

You will be issued, and Oyster pass with £15. You can use this for both the “underground” and buses. The underground may be confusing, but once you figure out the main stations of Victoria, Piccadilly Circus, and Paddington, you will be a pro.  When in doubt, ask. The English are friendly. The maps feature on your iPhone will help you get around.

Note: Remeber to download the walking directions when you have wifi. There were times I found myself wandering around without directions because there was no wifi. Free wifi is available in some coffee shops others will require you to buy something before giving you the code. I always went back to the same coffee shop because the code never changes. Cosi is a great place to have coffee and sit for a while when it is raining.

3. Trainline

Are you planning on traveling to other towns in London? Download the train line app. Enter the dates and times you want to go. The training app will provide you with information to help you choose the most comfortable, cheapest, or fastest route to your destination. Make your reservations at least three days in advance and get discounts. The tickets are non-refundable. The seats are comfortable. I recommend you do not travel during the busy morning or evening commutes. The trains can become very crowded. The evening trains have some grumpy travelers because they are trying to get home from work.

Note: Download the instructions on your phone. They will tell you exactly where to go. There is wifi on the train to keep you on track.

4. Buses

Buses are trickier to navigate than the underground. The schedules are posted at the stops. The tricky part is trying to figure out where the bus stops. I never trusted my instincts on this one. I always asked before getting on. You must have a travel card or contactless card. I used my Oyster card until it ran out. I can honestly tell you I only rode the bus twice. I preferred to walk.

5. Walking

I like walking. You can see so much by getting lost. Yes, I do get lost. I always come upon an event I would not be able to experience if I were on a bus or underground. I observed the Queen’s horses being transferred from one stable to another. I found a pub on Downing street and ate my first fish and chips and listened to an American banker discuss how to apprehend a black suspect with an English lawyer. The waitress apologized for their loud voices and hoped they weren’t infringing on my lunch. They weren’t. They put away about six drinks each before they walked out.

I walked about eight hours everyday in every city I visited.

6. Footprints

Footprints have free tours in Cambridge and Oxford. Students of the various colleges of the university are the tour guides. My tour at Cambridge was three hours in the rain. Cambridge, like Oxford, is not one university. They are both umbrellas for at least twelve colleges on their campuses. Some of the colleges have no more than six hundred students. We were not able to enter the gardens of these colleges because they were taking their final exams and preparing for May Balls, part of their graduation ceremonies.

The guides do ask for a tip that goes into the Footprints project.

7. Evensong

Kings College is the oldest building on the campus of Cambridge. It took one hundred years to build. Our Footprints guide told us the only way we could see the inside of King’s College Abby was to attend an Evensong performance. The choir sang, and the tourists listened. Evensong is a religious service performed in the evening by the Anglican church. Evensong takes place in most of the Abbeys and is opened to the public. You may enter in casual wear.

Note: No pictures are allowed in the Abbey.

Go to England! Get lost and enjoy!

 

Five Years in Japan: The Arrival

The plane lands with a thud on the Tokyo tarmac, fifteen hours after take-off from Phoenix, Arizona. I look out the window of row 38 seat C, the window, and see only darkness. It is 10:00 p.m. in Japan. I am in unchartered territory, a place where I don’t know the customs, the language, or the food. I don’t know where I will live. Will it be in a condo, apartment, a new house, an old house, or with my in-laws? I left that decision up to my Japanese husband. I can only pray he didn’t choose his parents. Japanese tradition requires that the oldest son and his wife live with the parents and take care of them for the rest of their lives. I wasn’t provided this information until the day we got married. Sumio arrived in Japan one month before I did in order to find us a place to live and face the anger of his parents for marrying a gaijin (foreigner). Yes, that would be me. We got married in December in Cedar Falls, Iowa. I was a student getting my BA in ESL/Spanish. He was employed by a Japanese company in Waterloo, Iowa.

Sumio returned to Japan two weeks after the wedding and I returned home to Phoenix. He had to prepare his parents for his decision to marry an American woman. Six months before Sumio and I met, his parents had chosen a Japanese wife, omiai, for him. This was very common in the 1980’s. His father was angry because now they had to tell the girl’s family she was not needed anymore. Sumio had to financially reimburse her for any emotional damages she had endured.

My seat partner is a Japanese businessman who speaks English very well. We occupied our flying time with lessons in Japanese language and culture. He couldn’t believe that I was flying to Japan for the first time and meeting my husband at the airport. Why is an American woman moving to Japan? He never asked the question. He was polite. I thought about the answer and the answer was love and curiosity. I love the man I married, and I want to know more about his culture.

We exit the plane.  My seatmate asks, “What is your husband’s name?” I answer, “Sumio”. He removes a white piece of paper from the message board situated near the information desk. It is thumbtacked to a corkboard. This was thirty-seven years ago, before cell phones. Sumio wrote the message in Japanese. What? I can’t read Japanese. My seat partner reads the message. “I am waiting for you at the exit of immigration.” Nice. I was hoping he wouldn’t leave me at the airport. I trusted him.  We have only been married one month.

I present my passport. The customs agent looks at me quizzically. He is probably wondering why a girl like me has a Japanese last name.

He asks me, “What’s your purpose in coming to Japan?”

I answer, “I married a Japanese.”

He asks, “How long to you plan on staying?”

“I am not sure.” I answer.  He smiles and waves me through customs.

The wide glass sliding doors open into the crowd of people waiting. How am I going to find my husband? They all look like him! Black hair, 5’7” tall, and dark eyes. I will let him look for me. I stand out in this crowd. Light skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair. How could he not find me? I hear him call my name “Kyaroru, Kyaroru”. My name is Carol. Neither he nor any other Japanese can pronounce my name. He just calls me Okasan (mother), a term of endearment that most Japanese husbands use for their wives. I turn around and there he is. He did come! What a relief.

We greet each other with a very short embrace. It is taboo to hug or kiss in public. Other people watch with quizzical looks on their faces. Am I his English teacher, his American girlfriend, or a friend of the family? Not many American women marry Japanese men. Japanese women wait on their husbands and Americans don’t. American men marry Japanese women because they know they will take care of them and wait on them.

The airport smells of cigarettes. I am about to gag. It is incredibly noisy. I can’t understand a thing that is being said over the loudspeakers. The Japanese use loudspeakers to announce everything. I have a really bad headache along with a case of serious jet lag.

Sumio asks, “How much money do you have?”

I answer, “$100”. He looks at me in shock. He can’t believe I traveled across the world with such a small amount. That was a joke the whole time we were married. We have to run to catch the last train. It is 11:00 p.m. and the last train is leaving at 11:30.

I am holding on to the handle of my black suitcase and dragging it behind me and running.  I have my American passport in my left hand. My newly minted husband, Sumio, is

about twenty feet ahead of me with my second suitcase. These two suitcases contain my life possessions. I don’t know how long I will be living in Japan.

I am drained and anxious. I can’t read any of the signs or understand any of the announcements. I don’t speak Japanese. I must depend on my husband to translate. He doesn’t speak English very well. His translations are short. What am I doing here?

The train stops, we jump into the train dragging the suitcases behind us. Sumio stores the bags in the designated luggage area. There are five men in the train car. I am the only woman and the only American. Two of the men are dressed in dark blue suits with dark ties. The uniform of Japanese businesspeople. One of them has his shirt hanging out of his pants and his tie undone. He is slouched on the red plastic bench holding on to one of the poles with both hands for balance. The smell of sake fills the air. They are on their way home after a night of drinking in a bar. Three of the men are smoking. It is January 1981, smoking is allowed on public trains. Two other men dressed in black shirts with white T-shirts peeking out and black trousers are having a hushed conversation. They have the appearance of Catholic priests. They are not. They are the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Yes, they have a uniform too. My husband warns me in English not to look at them, so I don’t.

It’s 11:00 pm, and we are on a local train from the Tokyo airport to Toyohashi, Japan; Not the nice-looking Shinkansen (bullet trains) that are pictured in the tourist information, but the green and red trains that take people to and from work every day.  Most Japanese use public transportation to take them shopping, to work, and to school. It is cheaper and more

convenient. We shouldn’t be on this train. Sumio thought I was going to bring enough money for us to stay in a hotel. I only have $100. After he got over the shock of me arriving in Japan with less than what we needed, we headed to catch the last train out of the station.

The train chugs along and stops at every station along the line. I am trying not to breathe so much because the tobacco smoke is making me sick. I am also famished. I just got off a fifteen-hour flight from the US. I haven’t eaten for almost six hours. I could vomit. I won’t.

The neon lights flash as the train makes its way down the tracks. There are more neon lights in every city in Japan than there are in Las Vegas. There are signs for “café” (bars), restaurants, pachinko parlors, and love motels. I want to hold Sumio’s hand to feel some solace. That is not acceptable in Japan. I feel alone.

One man finally gets off the train on the fifth stop. He is so drunk. He shuffles to the opened door while another man helps him out. He doesn’t make it. The alarm sounds, and he gets stuck. The door opens one more time. This time he and his friend make it off the train. I hope they can find their way home. The man slouched on the seat is sleeping. I wonder if he will miss his stop.

The men are staring at me. Where is an American woman with two suitcases going with a Japanese man? Was she picked up in some bar? Are they headed to a “love motel”? Japanese men don’t marry American women. We have a reputation for being too independent. I am his English teacher, prostitute, lover, or girlfriend.

I close my eyes once in a while and awaken every time the door opens. The slouched man on the bench is gone, and so are the Yakuza. Now, it is only Sumio and I. He holds my hand, and one hour later we arrive at our destination.

The automated voice announces the arrival at our station, Toyohashi. I must have fallen asleep the last twenty minutes of the trip. The train comes to a stop. Another man had gotten on somewhere and is slouching on the bench. Is this his stop? He doesn’t move. He continues snoring.

Sumio disengages my two suitcases from the luggage rack. He takes one suitcase, and I grab the other one. I am dazed I don’t remember where I am or why I am here. I look down at my watch it says Thursday, January 7, 1981, 9:00 a.m. Why is it so dark outside? It is Thursday, January 8, 1:00 a.m. in Japan. I think I must have skipped a day of sleep somewhere.

The doors slide open. Sumio exits first, and I follow. I have no idea where I am going. It is dark inside the station and feels very ghostly because there is no one around. We follow the exit signs out of the station. A line of about six taxi cabs sits waiting for customers, most of whom are drunk Japanese businessmen on their way home. The taxi cab drivers are snoozing in their seats with their hands rested on the steering wheel.

We walk over to the parking lot. One single car is waiting with its lights on. A young man, eighteen years old gets out of the car. Sumio and I walk over to the driver. He bows to Sumio and gets a quick nod in return. He is 5’7″ tall and has a head of dark curly hair. The curls are not natural. It is the 80s, and it was the style of the times. He looks like a Japanese Brady Bunch kid.

Yasuo is the youngest of four boys. He is my brother-in-law. He bows to me and I to him. My bow does not have to be as deep as his because I am older than he, and an American woman. He puts my suitcases in the trunk of the car. Sumio sits in the passenger seat on the left. Yasuo sits in the driver’s position on the right. Japanese drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Sumio is the eldest in his family. Yasuo is the brother that Sumio needs to protect. Sumio is the respected oldest brother, oniisan. Japanese siblings do not call their older brothers or sisters by name. They use their titles; older brother, younger brother, older sister, and younger sister.

We get into the car, Sumio sits on the left side of the driver and I sit behind Sumio in the passenger seat. I observe the neon signs trying to figure out what they say. Is it a supermarket or a pachinko parlor? Is it a bar or a coffee shop? There are not many cars on the street at 1:00 a.m.

I am so tired. I can only think about falling into bed and sleeping for about two days. Twenty minutes later we arrive at our house. The house Sumio and I will live in for the next five years.

Sumio and Yasuo carry my two bags into the genkan. We remove our shoes and step up into the entryway. They drop the bags off in the bedroom which is on the way to the kitchen and small dining room. I am hoping for some quiet time with Sumio. Yasuo leads us into the kitchen. Sumio’s two brothers, father and mother are sitting on blue zabutons. It is 1:00 a.m. Why are they sitting in my living room?

The table is square and a round lacquered tray full of sushi is sitting in the middle of the table. Six pair of chopsticks are set around the table. Eight pairs of eyes are looking down at the food. They are avoiding eye contact with me. It would be rude for them to look at a stranger directly in the eyes. I look at them. I bow and whisper konbonwa (good evening), I whisper because I am afraid I might pronounce it wrong. They greet me in the same way. I sit on my zabuton with my legs under me. It is not polite to sit “Indian style” for a woman. So many things to learn. Small blue plates are placed in front of the chopsticks. Chopsticks are never placed on the side of dishes in Japan. The chopsticks sit on little chopstick holders. This is my first time to eat sushi.

Sushi does not refer to the raw fish. It refers to the vinegar rice that accompanies the sashimi (raw fish). Japanese serve sushi for special occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, and welcoming visitors into their home. I am the visitor.

Most Japanese buy prepared sushi in the supermarket or a local convenience store. If Japanese eat sushi outside of their home they frequent a “sushiya” in their neighborhood. The sushi sitting on the table in the kitchen was made by my mother-in-law. Today was a special occasion. Her eldest son brought home an American wife. Was she celebrating?

 

Five Years in Japan: The Cooking Lesson

One hour after reciting our marriage vows my Japanese husband whispers in my ear, “Please, no more meatloaf, or mashed potatoes with gravy.”  Oh no! Now, what do I cook?

We first started dating six months ago, he took me to restaurants seven days in a row. I thought this must be getting expensive, so I decided to make dinner for him in his apartment. The easiest dish I could think of was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy.  He said, “This is really good,” and I felt proud of myself. Now, he knows I can cook. Apparently, I was wrong.

We meet in the student dining room at the University of Northern Iowa in 1980. I am a student trying to complete my double major as an undergraduate in Spanish and English as a Second Language. He has a female friend who lives in the same dormitory as I do.

It is a Sunday afternoon, and the kitchen area is open for students to cook. Every Sunday my dormmates and I make dinner for each other. Today it is our Japanese dormmate’s turn to cook. I spot Sumio standing in the corner of the kitchen grilling yakiniku, flipping pieces of shrimp, small slices of beef, pork, and chicken, and frying potatoes, carrots, and onions on an electric skillet. He reminds me of the chefs at the local Benihana restaurant.

He is the only male in the room. He doesn’t join the twelve women from ten different countries who are talking boisterously and commenting on how good the food tastes. The Japanese woman in our group who doesn’t know how to cook invited him to join us.  I ask him to eat with us, his handsome face turns dark red. He is easily embarrassed. He sits down, and we begin to talk. His native language is Japanese, and his English skills are minimal. He has only been in the US for one year and doesn’t have much contact outside of his office where everyone speaks Japanese.  I want to get to know more about him and his country. I am culturally intrigued and curious. We date for six months, he proposes, we get married and move to Japan.

One a month after our wedding, I arrive in Japan.  It’s Sunday morning, Sumio has the day off. I wake up in the morning to the smell of fish, which makes my nose realize I am not in the USA. Sumio is preparing grilled fish, miso shiru (a fermented bean soup), steamed rice and salad. This is not what I expected. I am trying to get a whiff of coffee, bacon, eggs, or cinnamon rolls. No such luck. I am now subjected to eating dinner for breakfast. This is something I will find difficult to get used to. Where are my Cheerios?

Sumio gives me my first cooking lessons. He is an excellent cook. That is why I married him. He tosses ingredients, soy sauce, ginger, sugar, mirin (rice wine) into a frying pan without measuring anything. I stand close by with my American plastic measuring spoons, thrusting them under the ingredient he’s adding.  “Wait a minute. How much does it take?” I ask. He answers, “This much.” He demonstrates by putting a gap between his thumb and index finger. I sigh and smile. I have to get this right.

The weekend is over, and Sumio returns to work and leaves me on my own. My mission for today is to prepare my first Japanese meal alone.  I have six hours to come up with an idea for dinner.  I sit in our small living room and flip the pages of my new five hundred fourteen-page cookbook, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art.  The cookbook is a wedding gift from an excellent friend who wished me luck as she gave me a wink. Pictures of seaweed, wakame, bonito, tofu, harusame, shirataki, udon, somen, dance on the pages before my eyes. A mass of unfamiliar ingredients saturates the page. There are pictures of yellowtail, sea bass, red tilefish, unagi (eel), cuttlefish, squid, chikuwa, and crab stare at me. My only experience with fish is fish sticks and trout. Will I ever learn to prepare these kinds of fish?  Japanese squash, ginger root, renkon (lotus root), matsutake mushrooms, shiitake, bamboo shoots, daikon, gobo (burdock), and wasabi. The only vegetables in my past were frozen green beans, corn, and carrots. I am in panic mode. This isn’t fair. One of the reasons I married my husband was because of his cooking skills. I realize now some of the differences in cultural values between the USA and Japan. Japanese culture dictates that men work long hours, Sumio isn’t going to be doing much cooking. That is my responsibility.

I have my pencil, pad of paper, a cup of tea, and my cookbook on the “kotatsu” table nearby. The table is low to the ground, and I have to sit on the tatami mat and cross my legs. It is a position that is uncomfortable for a tall American woman of Irish/German descent.

I need help. I tire of staring at my Japanese cookbook. I feel overwhelmed with all of these exotic ingredients.  I take my pencil and pad of paper, put them in my purse and walk to my Japanese mother-in-law’s house, which is five blocks away. I use the time to practice the greeting, ojama shimasu. I must say this greeting when I visit anyone’s home.

I slide open the entrance door. “Ojama shimasu,” I announce my arrival, take off my shoes and put them in the getabako (shoe cupboard) located at the genkan. My mother in law presents me with a pair of red slippers. She sets them on the floor and indicates that I must put them on. I put on the slippers and follow her through the house shuffling my feet along the slippery wood floor into the kitchen. She is about 5ft 2 inches tall and weighs around 125lbs. She has short black curly hair and a friendly smile just like Sumio.  She is wearing a full-length white apron over her clothing.

His mother has offered to help me learn some cooking skills. She waves me into her kitchen, which is small, about one-third of the kitchen space in the USA. All of her cooking supplies are neatly arranged in cupboards and on shelves. It is an honor to be invited into her kitchen. Her kitchen is sacred, and no uninvited person is allowed to enter. Cooking is her job. Yes, I mean job.  Many Japanese marriages are arranged. The parents pick the spouses of their sons and daughters. They get married and form a mini-corporation. The wife is in charge of taking care of the family, educating the children, and cooking. The husband goes to work and hands all of his money to his wife. She then gives him an allowance.

It is 5:00 p.m., and she is preparing for dinner. We don’t speak to each other. She doesn’t speak English, and my Japanese skills are minimal. She touches my arm and points to what she is cooking. She is teaching me how to cook. That is the reason I am allowed in her kitchen. Guests do not enter the kitchens of their hostesses. It is a workspace and is usually a little messy because of so much preparation of food. My mother-in-law hopes that someday I will be able to prepare a meal for her oldest son.  She doesn’t want her son to starve. She hands me a cutting board and a very sharp knife. She places a cube of tofu on the cutting board. My first reaction is to give the knife back to her. I resist this temptation and begin to slice the tofu as carefully as possible. She closely observes me and smiles. I have never held a knife this sharp, and I am afraid I might cut off my finger. What is she thinking? I hope she approves of my cutting skills. I’m sure she never expected to be teaching her son’s American wife how to cook.

Sumio learned to cook when he was seven years old. Times were tough in 1962. Many people in Japan didn’t have money to feed themselves. Both his mother and father worked full time to make ends meet, and he was left to take care of his brothers. He would go out and find whatever he could. Sometimes he would steal food from the neighbors to create something to eat.

After two days of cooking lessons from my mother-in-law, I feel ready. I walk into a supermarket in Toyohashi, Japan alone for the first time with my list of unfamiliar ingredients. A woman stands at the front door. As soon as the door opens, she greets me, “irashai masse,” welcome. She is a greeter wearing a blue uniform with the name of the store, Ito Yokado, stitched in white on the left corner and white gloves on her hands. I have no idea where to begin. The store has four floors. The supermarket is on the first floor, clothing on the second, children’s clothing on the third, and furniture on the fourth. In some of the bigger stores the “already prepared “food is in the basement. This was my favorite place to visit. There were always free samples. I later learned that if I couldn’t cook it, I could buy it already cooked. I pick up a blue basket and proceed to walk up and down the aisles. I am the only “gaijin”( Foreign person) in the store. As I walk through the store, I observe that most of the women are wearing aprons. I am confused. Do Japanese households employ maids?

I can’t read any of the items. A square of tofu looks like a square of vanilla ice cream. I feel tense. Everything is measured in grams. How many grams equals a ¼ lb.? My recipe calls for ½ lb. of ground beef.  The recipe is for eight people, and we are only two. There will be enough food for four days.

Two hours and two grocery bags later I finally check out and walk home.

I read the recipe and begin dicing vegetables, frying fish, shredding cabbage, adding sauce. Did I add enough ingredients to the sauce? I can’t give it the taste test because I am operating in the unchartered territory. How is it supposed to taste? I make a clear soup, slice the tofu, and make a small salad with cucumbers and tomatoes. Did I add enough soup stock? It tastes a little salty. The soup simmers on the small gas stove.

It is 9:00 and the food is ready.  I lay it out on the table. The main dish is in the middle, the soup, salad, tofu, vegetables, and rice are placed around the main dish. Chopsticks are placed in front of the main dish. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I wait patiently for my husband to walk in the door. He arrives at 10:00. I greet him at the door. I take his jacket and hang it on the hook in the genkan. He removes his shoes, steps up to the floor, puts on his slippers, and walks down the short hallway to the kitchen. He washes his hands, sits down at the table, and waits for me to serve him. I put the plates one by one on the table. I place the chopsticks in front of the main dish in a horizontal position. I set the other dishes on the table around his place setting. I do the same for me. There is something green, something yellow, fish,  salad, and rice. I arrange it just like the photo in the cookbook. I am feeling pleased with myself. I am also feeling very anxious. What if he doesn’t like my cooking?

He picks up his chopsticks and gently picks up the food and puts in his mouth. I haven’t touched anything. I wait for his reaction. “What’s this?” he asks very carefully. I tell him it’s fried mackerel. He has a strange look on his face. He doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want me to feel bad. He says, “It tastes good.”  I know the taste is not what he expected. I cry. He reaches over and hugs me.

“It’s OK.” He says. Is it really OK?

This cookbook is not going to help me at all. Japanese don’t eat the food that is pictured here. It is for Americans who want to impress their guest by serving Japanese food. I want to make everyday food that my husband will like. Sumio tells me about a cooking show. I begin watching Kyo no Ryori every day.  The chef provides step by step directions on how to prepare food. I sit down with my pen and paper ready. I write down the ingredients. The chef on the show picks up each ingredient and shows it to the audience. That is the only way I know what the item is. I listen to the pronunciation of the ingredient and carefully translate it phonetically. The word “shoyu” becomes “show you.” I had to take notes fast, and the instructions are in Japanese.

After a few weeks, my cooking skills improve.  My husband is happy. He buys me a subscription to Kyo no Ryori magazine.  I begin to study the kanji characters for each ingredient very carefully. I make friends with some of the Japanese women in my neighborhood. We get together and share recipes. They teach me their tricks. There are no more surprises for dinner

My second challenge was making lunch which involves more time and creativity. I usually end up arranging the leftovers from the night before in cute little containers. I don’t know how to carve little hearts or flowers into thin slices of radishes. I am not sure if he ever shows his lunch to anyone. He probably eats in a corner secretly hiding the lunch his American wife makes. I can imagine him showing his lunch to his coworkers. I am sure they have a good laugh. I married a good-natured man. The lunches of his co-workers were made with great care by their wives who took cooking classes before they got married. There are so many cooking schools in Japan.  Cooking is a serious matter. It is the key to a lasting marriage.

I learn that Japanese cooking requires at least three of these ingredients in every recipe: soyu, mirin, tsu, and salt. I can only thank my husband for giving me the opportunity to learn about his culture by learning to cook.

I finally learned how to cook. My husband didn’t leave me, and my mother-in-law grew to like me.