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Vicarious Japan and Thailand, 2005

I went a week before my first energy tools workshop and stayed with friends. Akemi-san’s brother was able to get me into a Chiba high school, very difficult. Her father is a county politician who called the principal and said I was a friend of his. (Was very impressed that my new friend made breakfast for the family daily and made decorating decisions for the house.)  I asked the principal about the focus on memorizing info to prepare for the college entrance exam rather than critical analysis of ideas. He said high school teachers consider the former their job. It’s pulling teeth to get a group started asking questions but I did get these from the three classes I interacted with: Have you seen any movie stars? Did you bring your cell phone with you? Why don’t you have bathtubs? Why do you wear shoes in the house? Would I be attractive in a CA high school (from a cute boy)? Who is the most famous Japanese person in the US? What do you think of Japanese fashion? I’m asking kids under 18 around the world 6 questions; so far answers are very similar (also have Shanghai, Uzbekistan, a few from Russia and Brazil and Canada). Note: if you have contacts with teachers or students in other countries, please email me and I’ll email the questions.

I thought they might ask me about differences in our cultures so I made a list. Superficial differences: drive on the left, bow instead of shake hands, warm toilet seats, also address someone as your name-san, smoking in public places including small restaurants, never seen kissing, single adults often live at home, different animals sounds (US pigs say oink, Japanese pigs say boo-boo, etc.), whole wheat bread rare. Also surprising how many workers for a job that would be staffed by one person here, such as on the beach a bulldozer was moving sand a straight shot down the beach, with a dozen uniformed workers waving him down the beach.

More significant: traditional diet is very healthy, sad to see Mcfoods all over; focus on the group rather than the individual (students wear uniforms, office workers usually wear dark suits) and work long hours—saw workers and students on Saturdays, very homogeneous (Korean background people I’ve worked with in individual coaching sessions report discrimination) and “geijin” used to refer to non-Japanese people means outsider. It’s been used to refer to me when I do something odd like have my feet sticking out from the comforter on a futon. This conformity results in low crime rate and low divorce rate and long work hours?

Akemi-san took me to walk on the beach and see temples, the usual things to do, omitting the favorite holiday—going to an onsen (traditional inn and hotsprings). Great food including my favorite kaiseki, which is many little dishes served in unique dishes, lots of fun tastes. Also visited Helen-san, very bi-cultural. Her dad, a Buddhist priest, moved the family to LA when she was 12. She went to USC then back to Japan to help set up Tokyo Disneyland.

A six-hour flight to smoggy traffic jammed Bangkok to spend the night in an airport hotel—only $35 including buffet breakfast. The Internet has really changed traveling, no more need for travel agents. An Aussie guy booked on the phone and was charged $50. US currency, music, junk food, cigarettes are ubiquitous. Flew Bangkok Air to Koh Summi, was surprised that a 45-minute flight served lunch, plus had free food and internet in the waiting lounge. I stopped off at a school to see if they would give my 6 questions to the students. They said they would but hadn’t when I came back to pick them up. A businessman on the return flight explained that’s typical, very causal approach to life in Thailand. He has to constantly ride his suppliers to get the correct amount delivered on time.

Thai islands are like Hawaii, palm trees, soothing ocean breeze, warm ocean—heaven to me. My goddaughter, Nora, was checking on the snorkeling at our resort when I arrived and I immediately joined her. We stayed in a thatched hut by the water with bamboo walls and concrete block construction in the adjoining bathroom, hand painted with various designs, like a big blue elephant (Thais are big on elephants and their king). Our hut had a walkway to a rock where I could sit in a chair and watch the sunset over the ocean and its islands, watch distant lighting at night.

My plan was to every day snorkel, get a massage, and eat Thai food and we pretty much did that. Nora figured out her massage person was a “lady boy,” transgender, the adams apple being what to look for. Thai people didn’t have a Protestant work ethic or value system, hence the sex industry, permissiveness about gender cross overs, work, focus on fun. Kind of the opposite of Japanese seriousness. National characters are interesting to think about.

Nora and I played tourist a bit and went to see a huge gold Buddha and a new huge statue of a many-handed KwanYin goddess of compassion (Kwanon in Japan). I love female deities. Then we took a boot to Koh Tao, a dive island attracting young backpacking divers from all over Europe and Australia, lots of dive shops, bars, and health clinics. The dive boat Nora booked let me go and snorkel and I collected emails from various countries represented on the boat hoping they’ll follow through and pass on my kids’ questions. The snorkeling was fine, not great, because the whole gulf is so heavily fished. I did see new fish, a red lionfish with filmy fins, smallish stingray, and a big neon blue fish with curved brown stripes.

We ate a lot of curried seafish dishes, loved the fresh fruit juices. Enjoyed street vender’s crepe with coconut, banana and chocolate (for 50 bat, 1 dollar=40). (Massage was around 600 bat an hour, 800 or 1000 bat for hotel). I had an afternoon in Bangkok so did some Christmas shopping, bought some Tiva-like hiking sandals for 800, then up at 4:00 am for the long flight to Tokyo, SF, and Chico.

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