One my favorite times of the week is Sunday afternoon with the kids. I always try to get out and do some sports. Despite the cold day, we got out and played soccer and football at Park #4 in our neighborhood. We call it the “sand park” because as with most public play spaces in Japan, it is sand instead of grass like in other countries. I don’t know why grass does not grow well here or why the Japanese use sand instead of grass for most parks.
I felt my age yesterday, or maybe it was the jet lag, but Owen and Oliver were running circles around me. I am just happy at age 50 to be able to get out and play with them! Owen and Ocean beat Oliver and me in soccer 11-10. Owen beat Oliver and me in basketball 20-2.
Capturing a small moment, Owen and I were laughing so hard I started crying. Several times previously at this same park, Owen batted a ball into the neighbor’s yard and the woman came out and yelled at us. Another time he threw a frisbee too hard and it smashed into shutters of another neighbor to the park, causing the family to be frightened. I gave him a hard time about it, asking him to be more responsible. Anyway, I missed a penalty kick and on the rebound from Owen, I kicked it again in frustration and it went up and over the fence, into a neighbor’s yard! I couldn’t tell myself to be more responsible. Ocean and I did the right thing and went and got the ball, sheepishly ringing the bell and asking the owner to retrieve our ball.
The third-oldest university in the USA, Yale dates back to pre-Revolution times. A school that has produced 5 US presidents, 19 supreme court justices, has 19 living billionaires and an endowment of over 27 billion dollars, reeks of old money, culture, privilege, and discovery on the world stage. This is one of the universities for the upper, upper class of the USA, with names like Vanderbilt, Harkness (Standard Oil founder), all over buildings. I didn’t realize how much research and people have come out Yale that has changed the world. The posters advertising lectures and organizations made me want to be able to spend a year or two in graduate school there. It would be a fabulous place to study. For me, it would be better for graduate school, because as an undergrad, I think I would have been intimidated and put off by the students from wealthy families. Being a bit older would have allowed me to ignore it focus on learning while I would be there.
I spent several days here as a chaperone for my students at the World Scholar’s Cup. The academic event for middle school and high school students is super popular, especially with international schools in Asia. The Tournament of Champions, the final event of the three rounds, is partly successful because it is hosted at Yale, and that brand is powerful. I think a lot of the south-east Asian families coming here with their children are here to soak up the autumn weather and colors and experiencing Yale like a New England, Old Money theme park. One of the optional tours families could take showed them Boston and toured MIT and Harvard campuses.
It has been inspiring for me to see all these contributions to humanity’s knowledge base at Yale. I loved sitting in the cafes and working on my doctoral studies and catching up with work emails in between supporting the students. There is so much going on here. One of the events took place in a lecture hall at the Yale Law School. Pictures of Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford (Michigan product!) hung on the walls of the library there. Amazing to think of the many famous people who took classes in that building. Professors were advertising for graduate assistants. I would have loved to been there and been mentored by Yale law professors.
However, as much as Yale is a global world leader, with the brightest students from around the world striving to get accepted here, I felt that it is really failing in the town of New Haven, Connecticut, where it is located. This is simliar to other universities, like the University of Chicago and my Lehigh University. I went for a walk one day down to the shore, and went through some of the poorest neighborhoods I have seen in the USA. The striking contrast between rich and poor here is in your face, with groups of homeless people hanging out on the famous New Haven Green, the central plaza of the university. I know the economic disparity is growing all over the USA, but you would think with the thousands of brilliant people who studied or worked here, they would be able to improve the lives of the poor living next to the university.
You can argue that the leaders of Yale prioritize national and world issues over helping the poor of the town. However, I think the growing income inequality and hopelessness of the poor in America is becoming a national problem. I know they must see it and probably try to help, but I wonder if they have given up.
It was delightful to get to know Yale University and Connecticut!
On my final full day in Connecticut, I led my students on a short trip to Manhattan to celebrate the end of World Scholar’s Cup and our return to Japan. A couple of the students have never been to New York and for me, I love the excitement and bustle of the Big Apple. We only had a few hours, but it was worth the effort to be thrilled with the lights and thousands of people.
I noticed Times Square has now put up cement blocks to protect pedestrians. Times Square is a target because of the symbolism of the center of media and capitalism of the global economy. There was also a strong police presence and the officer we saw had a machine gun with his finger on the trigger. In this time of delusional people running over people in the name of a religion, high traffic tourist places need to be protected.
Even on a Tuesday night in mid-November, Times Square was full of people. The commercialism always shocks me, and the hundreds of large, HD screens are fascinating to watch. We took some photos, got some souvenirs and headed over to Rockefeller Plaza and the NBC television company studios. Our family loves watching Saturday Night Live and being there where it is filmed is very cool. The Christmas tree was up and surrounded by scaffolding as workers are putting up the lights in anticipation of next week’s start of the Christmas season. There was a good number of people skating in the ice rink. I really wanted to join them!
We then walked down 5th avenue and the girls bought some makeup at the Sephora store. Seeing women getting makeup applied by cosmetic experts was interesting. We had to go back to Grand Central Station, which is a beautifully designed building to get the 8:26 train back to Connecticut. We tried the trendy Shake Shack restaurant chain while waiting for our train. I indulged in a vanilla shake and it was absolutely delicious. I was not impressed with the hamburgers and fries.
In all my trips to New York, I’ve only taken the Transbridge Bus Line that runs from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, into Penn Station. Coming from approximately the same distance, but north of New York instead of southeast, we took the Metro North Railroad from New Haven, Connecticut to Grand Central Station. It was a pleasant ride into the city. I like trains better than buses. The train was clean and the trip on time. Both rides were off-peak and so there was plenty of seats available. It takes 2 hours from station to station.
I hope that the next time I am back on the east coast, I’ll be able to catch a Broadway show and do a museum or tour some of the iconic landmarks on the island. There is only one NYC!
I was quite busy with work this weekend but did manage to get out for a bike ride on Sunday morning. The autumn colors are starting to show, as evidenced by this beautiful Japanese Maple. It was so refreshing to get out in the crisp air up in the Minoh hills on my road bike. A bit of heaven on earth for me.
I am riding more often with my knees only able to give me 2-3 runs per week. I am also trying to get into the gym more often and stretch with yoga to battle the effects of an aging body.
There was an interesting observation from a guest to our school this weekend. She said Japan feels like a movie set because everything is so neat and perfect with no rubbish, potholes, or disorderly homes and gardens.
Finally, Ocean arranged this beautiful Ikebana flower set at a workshop yesterday. Both her and Nadia are getting into the Japanese art of flower arrangements. For Nadia, it is relaxing after a day at school with the kids and for Ocean, it is a chance to be creative with her hands.
Earlier this week we renewed Ocean’s passport, her third passport expired October 25. For children under the age of 16, both parents need to go to the Consulate in person. It was a pretty smooth process, but the filling out the forms, getting a photo, collecting documents, taking a half-day off of work to go downtown to the consulate is time-consuming. However, on the bright side, it was nice to spend our 20th anniversary of Nadia and I falling in love, to get out on a gorgeous autumn morning. We stopped for a quick lunch on the way back. The US Consulate is located right downtown, and it is always fun to walk around in the hustle and bustle of urban Japan.
Ocean turned 10 in September and I am seeing glimpses of her becoming a woman. She really cared about her passport photo this year. She brought her brush to the booth outside the supermarket in our neighborhood the night before when we got the photo done. She is really beautiful and she will drive the boys crazy.
It was such a pleasurable day yesterday coaching Oliver in his first middle school basketball game. Sports are not a true passion of his, but he does have fun playing basketball and goes out for the team because I want to spend time with him. He scored six points in his debut and we had quality time together the whole day. Not much more I could ask for on a gray, rainy day in late October. His team, the middle school “B” squad dominated the Nagoya International School Dolphins and won easily.
I get much satisfaction coaching young people, teaching them the fundamentals of the sport and giving advice on how to improve, both physically and mentally. It is an added bonus to get to spend time with my children at the same time. We are both looking forward to the rest of the season.
I managed to get out before the rains came and went for a nice long bike ride in the Meiji no Mori Minoh quasi-National Park. Scenes of autumn were everywhere on this cool, damp, gray morning. Most of the rice has been harvested. The farmers hang the straw on poles in their fields. I am not sure what they do with it. The straw can be feed for livestock or plowed back in the fields.
I am eating several kaki (persimmons) per day, as this is the season. We eat them like apples although most people do not eat the skins. They are quite common in Japan and you can buy a dozen for $3.00 in the local supermarket.
It rained for the rest of the day today. A typhoon is coming on Monday so steady rain for the next couple days. It has been a rainy autumn so far, not cold, but wet.