Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Between worlds

Have been jumping back and forth between different worlds the past several weeks, too busy to ponder the craziness of it all. This goes way back into last month – several days of extra work, then flash, 10 days with Liu Jing Ru Laoshi here in Tokyo.

I had really wanted to get over to Beijing again before his Tokyo visit but it was impossible. Then here he was in Tokyo. Suddenly work was on a very distant back burner.

He returned to Beijing and I to work – for a few days. All day every day, and extra work each night. Then one morning I went directly from work to gasshuku, a couple days off in the semi-countryside with nothing to do but practice and drink. Gee, what a fate. Rode the last train back one night, took an early train to work the next morning, 3 hours with another group, another company.

12:00 noon, finish work. 12:08, on the subway on the way to the airport to pick up a visiting parental unit. And taking care of her every day until the day after tomorrow.

Except I did cast aside my filial duties for a special class last night. And an all-day Chen taiji thing today, building well on recent Chen work…Filial duties resumed as soon as Chen ended, now a few moments to myself at night.

And so on, back and forth between vastly different worlds. A return to the normal routine lies somewhere on the horizon a few days later.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

aging in Japan

1. Yesterday I went to the park with my daughter. We were walking all over and spied an older man practicing karate by himself, just off the beaten path. There was no flash, no bang, just good solid technique. Throwing punch after punch, then thrusting again and again with his fingers, all while rooted in a strong stance. There was no muscle power, but you could tell each one of those strikes would really hurt. People were jogging and exercising all around him. They paid him no mind and he had his back to them. How many decades has he practiced those strikes, and there he is, late Sunday afternoon, going after it in the park.

2. My neighbor is nearing 80 and was extremely active until a bicycle accident last year. He has maintained a large and somewhat overpopulated garden, something quite hard to do in this city where every square inch of land commands a premium price. He has advised my amateur gardening efforts in the meter of land running around my house which pass as a garden for the 8 or 9 years we have lived in this home.

He still gets out and putters in the garden / jungle every day, but has slowed noticeably since the accident. So these days I go over and impose some small measure of order on the chaos growing outside his home. It is the large space I have always wanted here in Tokyo and now I can have it vicariously for a few hours each week. He apologizes profusely for no longer be able to help me. I insist that I am glad for his tips and recommendations.

These days he has me taking out an entire tree here and there. Each time I feel a pang of regret / loss, but he moves on, convinced it is time to clear things out. I wish I were able to do so with some of the forms languishing on my back burners. And some of the unread books on the hard-to-reach corners of my shelves. Cut the ties that bind and move on. I piddle about, trimming the odd branch here and there, pulling a few weeds. He is resolute, forging ahead with determination and no hesitation whatsoever. Maybe he senses a limit on his remaining years and wants to get things in order. Me, half his age and trying to do too much, I just wish I had more hours in each day. And even half his determination / resolution.

3. My grandmother-in-law is 104 and counting, and more healthy than her daughter (my mother-in-law). Until 101 or 102, she got down on the floor and welcomed me with a full bow each time I visited. At 104, I don’t mind at all if she gives me a little nod (and a hand-wave in recent years) from her bed. I still get down on the floor and bow to her.

What strength has kept her moving so long? Four generations live in that house in the countryside. She still jokes about her own impending death every day – but won’t give in just quite yet. She may sleep as many hours a day as a baby. Yet when I pass by her room and pause to sneak a peek, she sits right up and shoots me a question. She is not finished yet.