The drama in Japan continues, two weeks after the worst earthquake in the country's history, and every day brings new sadness as bodies are found and tallied. One sad death that received a lot of coverage in the U.S. media was Taylor Anderson, an American woman from Richmond, VA, who went to northern Japan to teach English on Japan's JET ("Japan English Teachers") program. Having been an ESL teacher myself for several years before founding J-List, I can imagine the happy times she must have had, perhaps dodging kancho her students tried to administer (mischievous Japanese students like to sneak up on unsuspecting English teachers and push their index fingers into their butts as hard as they can). It's very sad that this tragic event engulfed her.
But daily life is slowly returning to normal in Japan, with food and other products being distributed to consumers who are still jittery with everything that's been going on. Even gasoline is starting to flow again, although there are lines at the "gasoline stand" in the mornings. The rolling blackout situation is still a bit of a challenge -- today the J-List staff arrived at work two hours early so we could get the day's orders done before the scheduled blackout in the afternoon, but the blackout ended up being cancelled. We continue to be amazed at how normal things are. All J-List's suppliers are open for business and are shipping products to us daily, and we're supporting them by placing large orders of bento boxes, toys and other items to help them through this difficult time.
I'm doing my best to enjoy being back in San Diego with my daughter, taking her around to see the many beautiful sights of our "other" home. As usual, going from one country to another involves a bit of culture shock, and it's been fun watching how my teenage daughter adjusts to being back in the U.S. "Why did you order a large drink? I can't drink all this!" (I had ordered the smallest one they had.) "This hot dog is the most delicious thing in the world. Why can't we have these in Japan?" (While Japanese are connoisseurs of delicious European-style sausages, they have no culture of eating good American style hot dogs.) Other aspects of American life that have stood out to us include how often we find ourselves in restaurants with zero unsweetened drink options (even the brewed iced tea has been replaced by sweet Raspberry Blast™ Iced tea), the bizarre feeling of writing a paper check to pay for services (checks don't exist in Japan, where cash is king), and the awesome feel of the wind in my hair when driving on the freeways (most driving in Japan is maddeningly slow city driving).
On the flight over from Japan, they had several in-flight movie choices, among them the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film. I would normally have seen a new Harry Potter movie in the theatre on opening night, but my son had been in juken mode, preparing for his high school entrance exams, and I couldn't bring myself to go see the movie while he was home studying. The film was good, but I was especially happy to see that the version they showed on the plane had Chinese subtitles. Japanese uses Chinese characters to express more complex nouns, verbs and adjectives, and it's always fun for Japanese learners to see how much Chinese they can puzzle out. The answer is...not much, but it's interesting to see how certain words or phrases that would be rendered phonetically in katakana translate into the richer kanji characters of Chinese.