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We are the sum total of our individual experiences. As a result, everything we think, interpret and say is tainted. While we may try to offer objective "facts", these facts are inevitably arranged and presented through the prism of our own experiences, and as such it is our own subjective perspective of the truth.
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Saturday. 8.9.08 7:48 am
The summer is for reruns, and so I will continue to re-post periodically old posts that I think might be of interest. While the 53rd anniversary date has passed for the bombing of Hiroshima--August 6--the anniversary for Nagasaki is today. Besides, given the world we live in today, I think that this post--from August 6, 2003--can still provide some necessary insight. It is a personal account of my observations of my mother, an atom bomb victim who passed six years ago due to non-Hogkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that has been linked to--among other possible causes--those who have been exposed to mass doses of radiation.
Pause and reflect
A-Bomb, Hiroshima, and Mom Today is the 48th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Every August, this becomes an intense issue for many anti-nuclear groups and opponents. For me, it is just as intense, but for more personal reasons.
My mother is an A-bomb victim--hibakusha in Japanese. That makes me a second generation victim, and the research on how radiation effects second generations is still inconclusive--although a friend has told me that if I'm any indication, the research should lead to illnesses like Peter Pan syndrome. But this is not about me....
My mother--photographed in the early '50s next to Honkawa, a river in Hiroshima (I think the Atomic Dome is visible in the background)--rarely talked about her experience. I had asked her a couple of times, but she would only tell me it was terrible and offered virtually no detail. On my first trip to Japan, I visited my relatives in Hiroshima with her and learned that most victims indeed did not talk about the event... until they were talking to someone who went through the same experience. In my great-aunt's house just northwest of ground zero--the Atomic Dome--she talked very animately with her cousin's husband about their experience. I was mesmerized, and now kick myself in the butt for being so selfish, for not recording their conversation on tape or on paper to share with others. All I can offer you today is my memory--as suspect as it is.
I had interviewed my mother a few times and actually put some of it on audio tape before she passed on last year, but I have yet to transcribe them as it is still too painful even to listen to them. So I will not write about her fateful day--I will do that on some future date relying on her memories. Instead I will jot down some of the insights I have gained through her over the years...
Burns: They were shiny oval areas on her legs. They differed in size, from 4 inches to 6 inches in length. Each had what looked like veins in a leaf: a center vertical vein with several branches sprawling outward from there. I always stared at them and at times tried to run my fingers over them, but every time I tried, she would slap my hand away. These are the remnants of her burns she suffered from the atomic blast. Her burns were severe and promoted keloids--an excessive production of scar tissue. She later explained to me that these keloids would form, then become dead skin that turned black and then peeled away. After a time, as her wounds healed, they stopped forming, but they left these shiny reminders of August 6. Whenever she slapped my hand away, she would just say, "Stop it." But I wonder if it was because it hurt or because she didn't need anyone else to bring attention to her experience. These weren't her only reminders.
Physical Scars: She had an ear--the left one--that looked like a boxer's cauliflower ear. Whenever my siblings and I were horsing around and we accidentally brushed against this ear, she would freeze in pain. Causing the pain were minute shards of glass. They had been embedded inside this cauliflower ear when the windows of her office imploded from the blast. After the blast, she went to a hospital to have them removed, but she was sent away, told that she should count herself among the lucky; patients that demanded "real" care needed their attention first and foremost. My mother just let the wound heal-over as is. Amazingly, she still maintained some--albeit diminished--hearing in this ear.
Psychological scars: Whenever we went outside, particularly when she was driving, my mother wore excessively dark sunglasses. I thought she was just trying to be California cool, but I found out later that there was a reason related to Hiroshima. When she was speaking with her cousin's husband, he mentioned that even today he flinches when he sees a sudden flash of light--a reminder of the flash on August 6. My mother nodded in agreement. She went on to describe to him how sunny southern California is and that when she was driving, a glint of sunlight reflecting off a car's chrome bumper always made her catch her breath...
I was reluctant to reveal these things about my mother--she consistently avoided talk about her scars and she always tried to hide them. But towards the end of her life, she suggested that perhaps her experience might prove to be noteworthy to some. I hope that some might serve as a reminder of the horrors of war and the effects of a nuclear blast--as we all know, there are some who unfortunately still need it...
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Thursday. 8.7.08 8:53 pm
As I grow older, I can no longer do what I used to do. DUH!
There was a time when I would fast for a day and drop a few pounds. I would run a bit and work out a bit and lose another pound. But no more. Not after the big Five-Oh. I swear it is all downhill after that. You young whipper-snappers should make sure you stay fit now. Or if you're not, get fit while you can. I remember it getting hard after forty--and believe me, it takes extra work--but after fifty, fuhgedaboudit. It ain't happening.
For one thing, I can't run without having my ankles get sore, or my knees aching for a few days. Of course, being the stubborn mule that M accuses me of being--and she is always right--I've been running this summer anyway, with zero, zip, nada results. When M was in Japan in June, I was running about... um... 15 miles total a week--three or four miles over about four days. But I didn't lose a bit. In fact, I gained a few pounds. When M came back she told me I looked rounder, and I protested even though I knew I had gained some weight. but heck, I've been running, aches and all, and I was convincing myself that the weight was the muscles I had put on my legs.
Well, after checking what I had been eating while she was gone--what kind of sleuthing she did, I will never know--she told me what's what. I'd have to run the Indy 500 to lose weight after eating Cheetos and Fritos and seseme crackers--gawd I love these things--and other assorted foods. Six slices of a fully stacked large pizza will do nothing for my waistline either. But I was hungry from all the running, I protested. And pizza isn't as bad as that mercury laden tuna, right? She told me very frankly that one slice of pizza has the equivalent number of calories as a small meal, so I virtually ate a small family's worth of pizza.
With arms folded, fingers drumming on her bicep, she told me that's what I get for eating out all the time. But I cooked pretty often. Like what? Like, um, macaroni casserole with Italian sausage, cheese, and crumbled Fritos on top for some crunch. It was pretty good. Should I make it tonight? You can imagine her answer.
Her main point was that I was taking in too many simple carbohydrates--pizza crust, macaroni, corn chips--thereby allowing my body to change it into sugars that are then stored as fat. FAT!
So now, I am on a more manageable diet. Although I am personally dying. Atkins Diet is a war against carbs, but according to M, it isn't balance. So I'm eating a kind of Onigiriman modified Atkins. No simple carbs so I can't eat pizza or regular rice. Of course, I cannot have any sugar carbs, such as candy, choclate and Chewy Spree. But I allow myself to eat half a bowl of brown rice a day or a slice of whole wheat bread or cereal. Also, I will eat some fruits which is usually a BIG NO-NO for Atkins, but I need to satisfy myself someway otherwise fall into the trap of binging later and rebounding. Besides, I only eat fruit once or twice week.
As for exercise, I've been walking and walking and walking. Since there is less impact stress in walking, I have fewer aches, and am encouraged to walk more. I walk approximately 3.5 to 4 MPH at least an hour a day, and when possible three hours--and hour in the morning, afternoon and night, which would equal 10 to 12 miles. Walking before bed does wonders. You fell really skinny when you wake up. Not that I'm skinny of course. But when M came home from Japan, I had ballooned to 169 pounds, but am now down to 161 in about 5 weeks.
I hope I can keep it up even after school begins. Maybe if I lose enough, M will let me eat stuffing on Thanksgiving.
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Summer rerun: Bound in Chains
Sunday. 8.3.08 2:13 am
In the previous post, I wrote I had a dream and fell out of bed. It reminded me of another dream I used to have all the time--being unable to move. I wrote about it a long time ago, back on October 31, 2003. The following is a partial edited repost.
Have you ever dreamed of being awake but not being able to move? I have. In Japanese, its called kanashibari, or bound in chains. The first time I experienced it, I thought that I was somewhere in a parallel universe. I was in my bed and I recognized the outline of the pulled shades in my dark room, but I couldn't move. As hard as I may try to will myself, my feet and hands wouldn't budge. I was beginning to panic. I'm paralyzed! I thought. I tried to screamed but couldn't. After struggling with my body, I slowly was able to gain a modicum of control, until finally I woke up fully. At this point, I was breathing heavily. What the hell was that?!?
I had a few more similar experiences, and I realized that it usually occured when I was exhausted or completely stressed out. I even figured out how to get myself out of it: take deep and deliberate breaths. I had discovered that the one thing I could control when I was "in chains" was my breathing. Long deep breaths that take in lots of oxygen for the brain.
Eventually, I figured out what was happening--at least, as far as an amateur sleepologist like me is able to diagnose such an experience. I had found myself in chains as I was watching a rerun of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, suddenly unable to move my body. Huh, what the heck? I'm still watching the show, I can see what's going on, the room is the same, everything is the same! What the heck is happening? I proceeded with my unchaining regimen, taking deep breaths and finally waking up. But it struck me: I must be sleeping with my eyes open. My body is asleep and cannot move, but since my eyes are open, I am still taking in stimuli from the outside world and it gives the effect of being awake.
Indeed, I often go to sleep with my eyes open, as my sister would gladly atttests, for she finds it creepier than hell. She realized this when she once began a conversation when I was watching TV in my sleep. My lack of response pissed her off and she was about to tell me of when I began snoring. She thought I was putting her on, but she eventualy realized that I actually was asleep. When I told her later that I vaguely remember her in the room, she told me that this was simply one more reason to label me a freak. Im sure you can tell my sister and I are close.
Now I'm no sleep expert, so what I have just described above is definitely a layman's diagnosis. But maybe, just maybe, someone knows more about this phenomenon and can tell me something definitive.
Query: Have you ever been in chains?
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What goes bump in the night?
Friday. 8.1.08 5:29 am
I don't really remember the dream except for that I was running away and I began to stumble. The next thing I knew, I was falling and bumped my knee on the floor next to my bed. It was early morning and M, who was already awake and brushing her teeth, was surprised by the sound and ran in from the bathroom.
"What happened? Are you okay?"
"Yeah," I said dazed still holding onto the stand of the floor lamp next to our bed. I had instinctively grabbed onto the pole as I tumbled out of bed. I suppose this was an instictive act, but fortunately prevented me from hitting my head anywhere.
M started giggling. "That was quite a thud. I thought the bed broke or something."
All I could do was shrug my shoulder, half in embarrassment, half in bewilderment. It's been a while since I had fallen out of bed. Over forty years, I think, when I was eight or nine years old. But for whatever reason, I can still remember that dream. The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was chasing me through the streets of a metropolitan city and then I fell off a cliff, falling onto the floor between my bed and desk.
I had heard somwhere that if you actually hit the bottom in a falling dream, you'd really die. This is probably an urban legend, but I'm not the type to test death theories. I'm a firm believer of the adage, "Better safe than sorry." Although, admitedly, it's not as though I could force myself to wake up in a dream. But I am glad I sorta woke up before I hit the floor.
Query: Have you ever fallen out of your bed? When was the last time you fell out of bed?
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Earthquake! A story I rarely tell...
Wednesday. 7.30.08 2:17 pm
Yesterday, the LA area was hit by an earthquake. I haven't experienced one in a long time, and the 5.4 magnitude would seem to be strong enough to scare many, but it wouldn't cause much damage except to old structures and outdated infrastructure. Indeed, except for the items falling off store shelves, the damage I saw on TV was mostly limited to old unreinforced brick walls and the water lines in older areas in town, like City Terrace. I'm not trying to make light of the situation. I'm just glad that nothing catastrophic happened.
Born and raised in California, I have had my share of earth moving experiences. The first big one I felt was the Sylmar earthquake of 1971, which was a 6.6 magnitude jolt. It woke me from bed and many things from my shelf fell to the floor. We called school and good ol' Loyola High School said there would be classes as scheduled, but when I got there I was told to go home as they found cracks all over the old main building and city engineers needed to inspect the building before they'd allow anyone in it. Finally, our tax dollars at work, my dad had said.
I also lived through the big one in San Fransisco. Actually, the epicenter was closer to Santa Cruz and is known as the Loma Prieta Quake. This is closer to where I was at Stanford, and it was humungous. My then-wife had gone the pick up our daughter from daycare when the 7.1 quake struck and she told me that cars parked on the street literally rose and fell in waves. My sister lived in the Divisadero section of San Fransisco, a landfill area created for the 1915 World's Fair. As you probably know, landfill reacts like quicksand in a major earthquake and many of the homes in the area were utterly destroyed. I went to pick up my sister and it looked like a war zone. I remember going with her to an evacuation center at a local elementary school to find out the status of her flat. We walked over the sidewalk that had buckled everywhere, and walked by classrooms in which the elderly apparently in shock were lying in army cots or sitting, eating bologna sandwiches distributed by the Red Cross. My sister received a yellow card, meaning that the status of her building had yet to be determined--this was three days after the quake. Fortunately, her apartment was deemed safe, but it took three weeks until she was finally able to move back in, and even then she had no water and electricity.
As for me? Well, you sports fans will remember that it was the opening day of the World Series and I was getting ready to watch the first pitch. I had the beer chilled, and got the chips out. And not wanting to have to run to the bathroom between innings, I decided to take a dump right before the game. So there I was, sitting on the can on the second floor of our student housing residence--it was like a mini-faux-townhouse--and the place jumped up and down with a jolt, then started rocking left and right. Not to get detailed, but I was only halfway finished and I didn't know what the fuck to do. I heard books falling and dishes crashing to the floor--Shit! Was that the Doritos?!?. I opened the door to the bathroom and from the throne, I could see the ceiling lamp that hung above the staircase landing swinging like a pendulum in a 90 degree arc. I was in panic mode, trying to think of a course of action--What should I do!--but all I could do was think, Fuck. Is this how I'm gonna die? Taking a shit? They're gonna dig through the rubble and find my body with my pants bunched around my ankles?!? Fuck, what a way to die!
Then it stopped. The walls did not come tumbling down. The floor did not collapse. And I survived with my dignity intact: Ass wiped, pants pulled up. Whew!
FYI: I often embellish my personal stories for "dramatic" (read: humorous) effect but this story is pretty much exactly as I remember it.
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Sunday. 7.27.08 5:47 am
Back in 1972, my grandparents informed my mother that they were willing to have me come to Japan for the first time in an attempt to nurture a relationship that was on again, off again, due to the physical distance between us. Back in the 1970s, going to and from Japan was not an inexpensive journey, and my siblings and I rarely saw our grandparents. In fact, the first and only time I had seen them until I became an adult was in the summer of 1968, when I was 12 years old, in Zurich, of all places. But in the summer of 1972, I had already been working at a Japanese confectionary in J-Town for about two months, and I enjoyed it so much that I didn't want to quit. I convinced my mother that my sister should go in my stead and that, in fact, she was the better candidate to "meet the grandparents" as she was much more studious and therefore more highly valued as a grandchild in the eyes of the grandparents. My mother bought into it, and I was free to continue my adventure in J-Town enveloped in an excitingly new environment at a Japanese confectionary shop, the place where I first started to break out of my Good Lil' Oriental Boy shell and learned that I didn't have to live up to the expectations of my parents and my JA school/church circles, a process that I detail in a rather long yet still incomplete autobiography-post. One person I got to know at the sweet shop was SJK, a guy who didn't even work there.
I used to work six days a week after school, 5 PM to 9 PM, 10 PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and SJK used to drop by the store almost everyday after his work at some government job. He usually arrived having already had a drink or two at a bar near his office, then moseying on down to J-Town around 6-ish after the day crew had gone home. The first few times I saw him, I couldn't figure out who he was. He'd just walk in and say "Hi," sit at the soda counter with his half-lit cigar and start reading the newspaper or commence small talk with the owner, Mrs. H, or my work colleague, Billy. Nobody bothered to introduce me to him; he just seemed to be an evening fixture--the counter glass gets wiped down, the store front lights get turned on, and SJK walks in to visit. As the new guy on the job, it wasn't my place to inquire in depth or detail, but after a whle SJK revealed enough of himself for me to piece together who he was.
SJK was a nisei who spoke Japanese relatively fluently--bera bera as he would say--and served in the 442 during World War II. He was a medic and used to tell me how he hated it, because he always felt like the red cross on his helmet was a bull's eye. He enjoyed drinking in the neighborhood which he did virtually every weekday night before he came to the store and after he left around 7 PM. He was very familiar with Mrs. H, her daughter, KZ (the legal owner), and nephew, Mikey. He was very familiar with Mrs. H and her daughter, KZ, and nephew, Mikey, but I am to this day uncertain of how his relationship with the sweet shop started.
Over the years, I got to know him fairly well. Indeed, he was one of my more corrupting influences--mind you, I mean that in the most affectionate of terms. He would occasionally take me to his favorite watering hole, the bar at Horikawa Restaurant. Over Jack Daniels on the rocks with a glass of water, he would talk about girls, his work sometimes, then more about girls and finally about girls. He loved women but was not married and proud of it. He told me once that he'd never get married because, as he put it, "That'd be stupid." He had his friends and his bourbon and he needed little else. He would often bitch about how the bar girls at Eigiku or Kawafuku would get too cozy in and attempt to sweet talk him into leaving large tips, but if you saw him at the bars, you'd never kow that he had any complaints. He'd be talking with them, laughing and giggling until 9 PM, when poof he'd vanish. He had work early the next morning and would always leave promptly, although it took me a while to get used to his disappearing act. Unless you were a faithful drinking buddy of his--which we became after a few years--he would never tell you he was leaving. One minute he'd be there, the next he'd be gone.
But in the summer of 1972, I had not yet gotten to know him that well. All I knew was that he visited almost every evening to say "hi" before he went drinking around J-Town. Much to my chagrin, Billy decided to quit early in the summer--I had developed quite a crush on her and had been following her around the store like a puppy dog wagging its tail. But more seriously, summer was a busy stretch for the store--in J-Town, tourist season--so without my senpai (elder, more experienced work/classmate), I had to focus on learning my duties which involved, among other things, serving customers, stocking trays of rice cakes, mopping the floor and closing shop. It was not particularly hard work, and it did give me the glorious opportunity to learn Japanese. But it kept my attention from the more extraneous happenings around me. By August, I had learned the ropes fairly well, and was able to take care of business without supervision. I had become familiar with my fellow workers and the regular customers, and was able to tell the difference between them and the frequent visitors who just dropped by to chat. During this time, SJK's visits increasingly became infrequent. He told me that the tourist were hogging up all the prime bars stools--SJK rarely sat at a booth or table... come to think of it, neither do I. So he went drinking elsewhere with his buddies. By the time Nisei Week arrived in August, he had stopped coming completely.
I hardly noticed, the store was so busy.
Nisei Week was a large celebration for the Japanese American community that actually lasted two weeks. There were exhibitions and parties, as well as a Miss Nisei Week Pageant. The finale was a weekend carnival and on on the climactic Sunday, a parade featuring Obon dancing, JA pioneers, local politicians and of course Miss Nisei Week and her court. Parade day was so crowded, that you couldn't walk a straight line anywhere in town, and during the parade, the crowd on the sidewalk was so thick you could barely walk through--which actually gave us a break from making non-stop sno-cones. It was a pretty big deal for the community and the tourists flocked to J-Town, a few short blocks from downtown and the civic center. It was definitley good for for Japanese American pride and a sense of community, and it was certainly good for business in J-Town. But not for guys like SJK. It wasn't surprising I had not seen him at all during Nisei Week.
When things wound down a few days after the parade, my sister returned from Japan. I learned that I had made the right choice to stay in LA. Grandma is nice, but perhaps too unfamiliar with American kids. She was very controlling and demanding, and my sister rebelled in Japan. My mother was rather upset at the whole ordeal--which I hardly noticed since I was too involved in my first part time job--and my sister ended up spending quite a bit of her time with our aunt in Hiroshima rather than with grandma in Tokyo. Sis discussed in detail the horrific standards and demands placed on her and I felt like I had dodged a bullet--I was a young seventeen and rarin' to learn to be my own person, away from the demands of my own parents and the enormous expectations on a good little Japanese American boy. I certainly didn't need to be with Grandma. But after Sis gave me the lowdown, she changed the topic and told me of someone she met on the plane who knew me.
"Me? You met someone who knows me?!?"
"Yeah, a Japanese guy was sitting next to me. He started drinking and was talking to me, asking me questions about what I do and where I live. He asked me if I go to J-town, and I said 'no' of course, but I said you worked there. He asked where, and I said at the sweet shop, and he said he went there all the time, and that he knew you. It was kind of creepy, like he was trying to pick me up."
I thought about my friends who might have gone to Japan but couldn't think of anyone, let alone someone old enough to drink. "I don't know anyone who went to Japan."
"He said he knows you really well."
I swore I didn't know who she was talking about. I kept thinking that it was some random dude, maybe? A customer, maybe? I had no idea, but my sister was not attacked and she did not seem particualrly traumatized by the encoutner so I left it at that. The next day I went to work and around 6 PM, SJK walks in for the first time in a long time, sits at the soda fountain counter and points his cigar at me.
"Hey, Ray, your sister's pretty good looking. What happened to you?"
I learned that SJK went to Japan annually to see his relatives in Hiroshima. According to Mrs. H, he went every August for a couple of weeks, right during Nisei Week. Did someone not think to tell me this? Not that it would have done any good. I mean, what was I supposed to do? Tell my sister to avoid being assigned a seat next to someone who drinks Jack Daniels on her flight back from Japan? Seriously, what were the odds of that happening?
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