Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our New Normal: When it Comes to Illness...

A stubborn upper respiratory bug is making the rounds through our family these days.  Stew and I managed to weather it with the help of OTC meds we brought along with us from the States.  We wiped those supplies out, which meant making a foray out to a Japanese drug store.  We knew we wouldn't find our favorite remedy here (12-hour Sudafed), but we did find Contac capsules, along with a lesser-strength ibuprofen, so we figured we'd be okay.

Jenna contracted the virus and after a couple days of fever, she developed a full-blown sinus infection.  Great....time now to find a local clinic.  We had no idea where to begin our search, but thankfully we have local friends who have offered to help in times of need.  

We decided to preempt our scheduled Japanese lesson in favor of pressing our tutor into humanitarian service.  When Harada Sensei (Teacher Harada) arrived, we informed him that Jenna needed a doctor, and could he help us find one?  With his help, we found an ear/nose/throat clinic a short walk from our house.  We were thankful to have Teacher Harada with us so that he could translate.  In a little over an hour's time, Jenna had been registered, examined, x-rayed, diagnosed (yes, it was a sinus infection), and prescribed an antibiotic.  We were amazed by the speed and efficiency of this walk-in clinic.  We went to a nearby pharmacy and after 20 additional minutes, we were heading home with prescription in hand.

This experience proved a welcome contrast to the self-diagnosing/self-medicating that defined our way of managing illness on Mainland China.  There, we would stock our home pharmacy by way of trips out of country once or twice a year, bringing back what we hoped would be the medication we'd require over the next several months.   This time, it was a relief to take Jenna to a clinic for what amounted to a Western-style doctor's appointment.

Heather fell ill within days after Jenna, except that the virus went straight to her lungs, resulting in bronchitis.   To our dismay, the clinic that Jenna visited was closed today, so we trekked around the neighborhood in search of another that was open.  We found one about a half-mile down the road, and took Heather in to register and receive an exam.

Heather's experience was completely different.  Instead of an interview, brief exam and x-rays, Heather endured thoroughly invasive examination and treatment.  The doctor (who spoke some English, thankfully) examined Heather's throat with a camera-tipped probe, examined her nose in like manner, and then....THEN....he took an aspirating tube to the back of Heather's throat, causing her to gag.  After that, he used the aspirating tube up her nose, to her wide-eyed astonishment.  I reached for Heather's hand, which she gripped tightly until the doctor was finished "cleaning out."  Finally, she was fitted with one face mask and then a second, to receive nebulizer treatments.  

Whereas Jenna came home with one 10-day course of antibiotics, Heather came home with 10 separate medications:  cough suppressants, broncho-dilators, antihistamine, gargling powder, antibiotics, throat lozenges, and a nasal spray.  Whew!  All of these meds are in fairly small quantities and will be used up within 5 days, but it does seem weird to watch an 11 year-old swallow a handful of pills, twice a day.

In sum, within days we witnessed two perfectly legitimate ear/nose/throat evaluations, but also two entirely different treatment procedures.  Time will tell which child recovers the fastest from her respective illness.....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In Search of a New Normal...Part 1

We are getting closer to "normal."  

Girls scope out their new campus.
Jenna and Heather started school on Monday, Jan. 21st with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation.  It's their 3rd school in the last 12 months, but thankfully it should become "normal" for them during these next 4 years.  We took a tour of the campus the previous week, being led around by the gentle-spirited principal that both girls agree, "is so much like Aunt Kristin."  The first week was as hectic as we expected, with the girls getting accustomed to a new school, new teachers, and a techno-centric new "system" for communication and tracking assignments.
The "Aunt Kristin" principal, Mrs. Tanya Hall.

The girls now walk 20 minutes to a train station, take a commuter train a handful of stops, then disembark and walk another 10 minutes to their school.  We accompanied them the first two days, giving them less assistance each trip so that they learned the routine for themselves.  On day 3, Stew and I had a morning appointment that we could not get out of, so the girls ventured out on their own -- and they did it!  

On day 4, Jenna's homeroom was scheduled to conduct a homeless outreach at a major railway station in Tokyo.  We bought meals and drinks for the homeless who sleep in the train station overnight.  Each student brought and handed out 3 meals to various men, some who were bundled up and sleeping on their cardboard box, others who were already disassembling their bed for the day.  

The Tokyo police allow these homeless men to sleep in the interior corridors that link several train and subway lines -- space that is even kept heated during the night hours.  The only stipulation is that they vacate the corridor by 7:00 a.m. as the morning commuter rush begins.  This meant we woke up at 4:30 a.m., took the train to the station to arrive at 6:00, and handed out our meals before the 7:00 a.m. moratorium.  Afterward, we commuted back to school and were treated to a breakfast of pancakes and sausage, served by the school's Honor Society. 

Word gets around when the kids come bearing breakfast.  In one instance, a homeless man ran up to one of the parents, pointing back at his friend who'd received a meal, and asking (hopefully) whether there was one for him, too!

Stew and I passed through this same train station a couple of hours later.  Nobody would guess that the corridor served as sleeping quarters for homeless men, based on what you saw at 9:00 a.m.   It looked like a typical Japanese subway crossing:  immaculate, orderly, crammed with commuters, with the distinct feel of cool, conditioned air blowing overhead.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wanna See our House?

Winding Staircase!
Our "Great Room" downstairs
Some of you might be interested to see how we're living during these early days in Japan.  Most of you know that we will be extremely well outfitted here in a couple of months, when our U.S.-purchased furniture makes its way here aboard a container ship.  For now, though, it's time to show you some "before" photos.
Our house, 2 floors' worth!
The rooms are furnished with borrowed curtains and rented furniture.  Seeing as we've just "weathered" Tokyo's first blizzard in 40 years, we are very grateful for the curtains...even if they are pink in some rooms.
Master BR 
Girls' BR -- sufficiently "lived in"

The kitchen is much, much more than we were expecting.  In China we started with bare walls and a naked shelf that contained a sink and a primitive cooktop.  Needless to say, the average Chinese kitchen needed a lot of upgrading.  

Here, though, we walked into a galley-shaped kitchen with cabinets and a sink big enough to bathe your baby!  The entire left wall contains floor-ceiling cabinets and a (rented) fridge.

One of two "thrones" is pictured below, along with the "Control Panel" on the left side of the toilet.   Not only do we have heated toilet seats here (!)  we have the option of bidet spray or "hiney spray" to clean off oneself after doing one's business!  Who'd 'a thunk it!

The toilet occupies a closet all its own.
Would it be too much to add that the water "spray" is heated as well?

 And last, but not least, the showering/tubbing room.  Think of a sauna-sized bath room where one first showers, then steps into a tub filled with water up to your armpits to soak away the cares of the day.  This is clearly Lissa's favorite feature of our new home.
Lissa's favorite:  the deep soaking tub.
The apartment may seem "spartan" but we realize that to live from day to day, very simple furnishings are more than adequate.  A place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to prepare food and bathe.  Nobody really needs more than this, right?

Remind us of this in a couple of months when we're squeezing all of our new furniture into this cozy living space.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

In Over our Heads

This celebrity came through Haneda
 airport just hours ahead of us.
We arrived safely in Tokyo, Japan after a blessed uneventful 14.5-hour flight from New York's JFK airport.   These trans-oceanic flights are grueling any way you look at them.  We were grateful to fly on American Airlines this time around, because the girls whiled away the hours playing games on the seat-back entertainment systems (something we did not have on the last trans-oceanic flight, aboard a Chinese airliner.)

Immigration and customs are a chore, and yet as we passed through immigration at Haneda airport, we emerged with our Japan residence cards...eliminating a lengthy errand from an even more lengthy list of must-do items for the newly arrived.  

We are starting over.  Starting over usually means you start small and build up, and that's our story this time around.  Our apartment is sparsely furnished with temporary bedding,  a dining room table, and small couch.  We eat using borrowed dishes and utensils, and dry off with hand-me-down towels after bathing.  Our pantry contains at most a 2-day supply of groceries, since we are still discovering the local markets and stores.

Before you feel too sorry over this "minimalist" existence, I must add that Stew is posting regularly on Facebook, and Lissa on this blog, thanks to a tethered connection to Stew's I-phone (version 5).  We are, after all, carving out our new existence in Techno-Mecca!
The Apple Store in
Shibuya, Tokyo.

Jenna and Heather are sailing through these early days like champs.  They haven't complained about sleeping on the floor on the thin futons.  They are gamely sampling Japanese food everywhere we go, and they eagerly anticipate a visit to their new school where they start class on Jan. 21st.  They did suffer a dose of jet lag, waking up at 4:00 a.m. on the second day here, but they slept in until 8:00 the third morning and have been fine ever since.

We hit the ground running, eager to explore our new city.  Each day we've gone out to try something new, and to get more items checked off of that list.  After obtaining refillable bus and train cards, we've ridden both, including taking the train into downtown Tokyo.  The challenge of getting around a new city energizes us.  It also meant we made a couple of missteps in the train station, heading down a corridor toward the subway instead of the light rail.  Our cards suddenly activated an angry-sounding "reject" beep, which stopped us cold.  We uttered a sheepish "Sumi masen" ("I'm sorry") to the Japanese gate guard, and he cleared our malfunctioning cards so that we could continue on our way....the right way.

Enjoying Sukiyaki and other traditional Japanese favorites

Tokyo has a bit of a Hong Kong-feel to it, which makes our newest landing pad seem "familiar enough" without intimidating us.   We are having fun observing our new surroundings through the lens of 8 years of life on Mainland China.  We must definitely make some adjustments before we run afoul of Japan's Politeness Protocol.  For example, cell phones are turned on "silent" on trains and public buses.  Riders as well are nearly silent during their commutes, and Jenna has chided us more than once for talking too loud.  

We have seen more Starbucks coffee shops in 5 days than we did in 8 years in China.  The streets are immaculate.  Curious locals will discreetly peer at us (and turn away if spotted), compared to the wide-eyed gaping and gawking of the mainlanders.  We are slowly learning how to separate our trash into 3 separate bins for recycling, instead of tossing it all into one bag for the neighborhood trash collectors to sort through.  The pigeons here are very plump and healthy, instead of being served up on a mainlander's dinner plate.

We are also very weary and tired.  The initial days/weeks in a new country are exhausting as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the responsibilities of starting over.  We are truly "in over our heads",  and yet we couldn't be happier.   

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Timely Death?

Stew's dad, C.J. Roberson, 81, passed away on the morning of Christmas Eve.   Although he had recently suffered a debilitating stroke, none of us saw this coming.  All of our attention had been focused on his recovery; we'd even set January 2nd as a target date for C.J. to be discharged from the rehab facility to go home.  To our bewilderment, C.J. went "home" several days earlier than we were expecting, and it was to his heavenly destination rather than to his modest brick house set among the pines and azaleas of  lower Alabama.

I broke the news to our daughters and their immediate reaction was tearful. Jenna and Heather had seen Papa over Thanksgiving and had told him good-bye, fully expecting to see him again.  Death wasn't in their plans.  I consoled the girls with the biblical truth that God ordains the number of our days even before our birth ( a la Psalm 139), and so they didn't have to tell themselves that Papa died because he wasn't eating enough at mealtimes.  Though they agreed with this in their heads, their hearts still broke with fresh sorrow over the realization that Papa was gone.

We attended Christmas Eve services that afternoon, and during the assembly a handful of children were baptized.  I thought to myself, "The whole significance of baptism is for days just like today, when I'm struggling with death and loss."  C.J. had made his peace with Jesus while in his sixties, and it had changed his life.  Now in death, it changed how we thought about losing him.  He was spending Christmas Eve with the Babe in the manger, not in a sterile hospital room.  Stew and I found ourselves relieved, seeing C.J.'s passage as merciful release from a body condemned by old age and infirmity.

Leslie and her fiance, Josiah were spending Christmas with us this year, thus Papa's death injected an unforeseen wrinkle into our holiday plans.  We thought we would spend this Christmas getting acquainted in the context of meals, forays to our country property, video game sessions and other relaxing activities.  None of us dreamed that Josiah's introduction to our family would come by way of the crucible of death and burial.  And yet, Josiah and Leslie both agreed that they wanted to accompany us on the hastily organized 500-mile trip to bury Papa.

We departed a couple of days after Christmas and stayed through New Year's Day.  Our family of six stayed with Stew's cousin Jeff, who along with his wife Bonnie, curtailed their own Christmas visit with the grandkids in Orlando, Florida, to hurry home and host us.  

Saturday found our families gathered at First Presbyterian Church for the memorial service, which was well attended by friends and relatives.  Stew, along with his brother, nephew, and 2 cousins took turns speaking about their father/uncle/granddad.  Lissa sang a duet of "The Old Rugged Cross", C.J.'s favorite hymn, and another cousin sang the Navy hymn in honor of C.J's 28 years of military service.  We all comforted one another with loving and mostly entertaining memories of C.J. for hours after the service concluded.

On New Year's Eve, C.J. was buried with full military honors at Barrancas Cemetery located on NAS Pensacola.  He shares a gravesite with his infant son, Steven, who died at birth in 1957.

Was this a "timely death", we ask.  Is death ever "timely?"  From the perspective of our off-beat missionary minds, the answer is a definite YES.   We have embraced a lifestyle which places us on the opposite hemisphere for years at a time.   At this point we are only a handful of days away from shipping off to Japan, for what will likely be a four year absence.  If C.J. had slipped away from us during 2013, only one of the six of us would have attended his funeral -- Stew, who would have had to fly back from Japan alone.  Instead, we all enjoyed the privilege of witnessing C.J.'s  memorial and funeral.  Having viewed his ashes placed in the grave first-hand, our family enjoys closure in remembering a very loving man, a devoted husband and father.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sands in the Hourglass

Days till our departure are melting into mere hours.  We fly out of the U.S. in five days, concluding what has been an exceptional, fulfilling, and mind-boggling 8-month furlough.  For you numbers-lovers, we made 2 trips to Virginia, 4 trips to the Gulf coast and 6 total into Alabama, 1 trip each to South Carolina and Texas, and 10,000 miles added onto the trusty Manna van's odometer.  We've spoken at 5 conferences and at least 18 churches, some on multiple occasions.

For the event-trackers, we've packed in a college graduation, a wedding, a week of summer camp (kids) and beach vacation (parents), 2 medical emergency trips, Creation Museum visit, a thorough ADHD/ medication/Occupational Therapy assessment, a semester of  middle school, Seminary, Japanese language study, root canals and crowned teeth, new glasses for children, a 12.5 acre land get the picture.  The pace has been dizzying as we have compressed seeming years of activity into a handful of months.

December fell into a category all its own.  We'd expected to spend December resting leisurely with family during the holidays, but God used an untimely death to interrupt our plans.  That will have to be saved for another post.

December also found us sorting, packing and purging for the move.  By mid-December we'd separated out two suitcases apiece of clothing and essentials, then packed the lion's share to be shipped in a crate to Japan, to be seen sometime in March.  Movers came to the house and picked up boxes containing everything from bed linens to kitchen utensils to spices and bathroom towels, things we bought to replace the household furnishings we'd abandoned when we left China.  The movers then drove to a furniture store that warehoused our future home, rumbling off hours later with beds, tables, dressers, living room chair, couch, and media cabinets. 

God amazed us with His provision.  We began our furlough with an "empty" 1000 cubic foot crate and a promise for its contents to be shipped to Japan.  The burden fell on us to fill the crate during our 8 months in the U.S.  It has been a thrill to watch God, our provider, come through for us to the degree that we were actually concerned about our belongings exceeding the 1000 cu. foot allowance! 

Is this not a testimony to God showing up in a challenging circumstance?  This is also a moving testimony of God answering prayers that many of you have lifted on our behalf, because you appreciate the challenges we faced in starting over, yet again. To those who provided materially for our move, we are humbled and grateful.  From our hearts, we thank you and praise God for you!