Coming back to America after being away for six years for a short trip is nice. I get to experience America almost as a kind of foreign tourist. I can soak up the joy of the absurd and, as a former resident, notice all of the small changes that go unnoticed by the current residents. I'm still mostly fluent in the culture and the long-term problems and issues I'd have to face is if I were moving don't apply.
Going shopping at H-E-B and Target is fun. If I'm honest with myself, I miss amount of choice available in your average Target or Supermarket. Take the cheese section, there's Colby jack, Swiss, Jalapeno monterey jack, and probably 10 other varieties in block, slice, grated, and cube form. Compared with "melting cheese" (as opposed to cheese that doesn't melt?) and fake cheese slices in Japan, it's hard not to get envious.
I'm not a huge consumer of BBQ sauce, but just look at this selection.
Even the Asian section is quite good these days. Plenty of options for nori and other basics. You can even buy bottles of unsweetened green tea.
The clothes section's manikins are not slim any longer. They're mostly plus sized. Even the models in the swimsuit section aren't thin, instead also showing plus sized models. It better reflects the clientele and I reckon that's a good thing.
Everything's bigger here. The portions, the roads, and the cars. Part of that is because Texas. The truck density has always been higher here. They drive fast, too. Most roads have highway-level speed limits in Japan (40mph / 65 kph). And when you walk along on the sidewalk next to 3 lanes of cars driving over that speed limit, it doesn't feel safe. Stroads are the worst.
Needing to get in the car to do anything or go anywhere is definitely something I did not miss about America. As far as the eye can see there's solid cars all traveling in the same direction and yet nobody thinks "maybe this doesn't make sense for us all to be traveling independently together. Maybe this is a giant waste of resources and time and money."
Nobody seems to think that there's any other way. That ceding life to the automobile is the way it always has been and the way it always will be. You can feel the hostility of the design to anything isn't a huge metal box.
America is best in small doses. Stay long enough to embrace the absurdness of it all and leave before the reality seeps past the rose-tinted glasses.
We traveled to Texas. This was Leo's first flight and his first time to America. It's also my first time visiting the US in 6 years, since we moved back to Japan. Leo did good on the flight. When the flight attendant came about, Leo was able to say he wanted chicken. Ordering stuff as a kid can be scary and he did great.
It's been good coming back and visiting America. I missed seeing such a large skies like you see in Texas. Going outside this time of year is great: it's about 23 during the day and there's no mosquitos. This same area during summer though is not as great as it's 40+ and you get eaten alive by the mossies.
We've been able to introduce Leo to all of his cousins and all of his uncles . Mission accomplished.
Driving everywhere is a drag, though. Not because I'm not a fan of driving, but just how inefficient (resources and time). i.e. getting everybody loaded up into the car just to literally drive across the street because there's no other way.
Visiting Space Center Houston with Leo was a lot of fun. We did the red tour, which takes you to the ISS training facility and to rocket park where they have a Saturn V rocket. The other tour takes you to Mission Control and rocket park and way back they were a single 3-stop tour.
Over the years I've done this tour at least a half-dozen times. As I've gotten older visiting the campus inspires me. There's just something about visiting the inside of the large campus, and people doing research, each advancing human knowledge in their own respective fields that is inspiring. I imagine there's an alternate timeline where I also worked inside those buildings.
Afterwards we visited my wife's old workplace and Leo got to meet Akihiko Hoshide, one of the Japanese astronauts. Leo was happy to meet him because he's seen him on TV in Pitogora Switch (youtube). I was surprised that Leo didn't get shy and try to hide behind me. In fact he (Leo) talked quite a bit, mostly about Mario though.
Driving from Houston to Austin and it rained so hard on 290 and was almost foggy, all you could see was gray. Never wanted to be on a train more in my life. Luckily, 15 minutes and we were through the worst of it.
Taking a break at Starbucks in Giddins and the dropped in temperature from 24 to 10C. Burrr 🥶
Leo turned 5 years old. We had a birthday party a couple days early with the entire family at Coffee Grounds in Buda, Texas, just south of Austin. This was the first time we've had the entire family (all of my brothers and their kids) together in the same room in at least 6 years and it probably won't happen again for a very long time.
The day itself, Leo got a bit overwhelmed with all of the people and wasn't feeling very well. He slept half of the afternoon and we woke him when it was time for cake – you can't cut the cake when the main person isn't in there.
The entire party was Mario themed and we had a lot of Mario decorations up in the house.
Presents wise Leo scored – 5 years worth of presents. He got Lego Luigi, Lego Mario, Lego Luigi's Mansion, a Tanuki suit, and more. I have no idea how we're going to get all of it back to Japan.
We went to the Children's museum with my mom and we had a lot of fun. They had this pneumatic tube display where you could put in a ball and it would flow through the airways and come out of a given location. It had two valves you could adjust that would change the flow of the air and hence the location it would pop out at. I think we probably spent 30 minutes on that one display.
We hung out with my younger brother Jacob at The Domain. The domain is privately-owned high density residential/retail/office area in Austin. Effectively it's like the owner of a mall bought a huge chunk of land and started playing sim-city, trying to recreate what would normally occur "naturally". It was trying to become a "second downtown". When we lived in Austin, a decade ago now, we lived in phase one. I'm amazed about how much it's changed – it's gotten so much bigger. There's more to do.
Mostly we sat and drank a cola at this burger place because they had a playscape inside their shop. This is the rub, because it's (the domain) are all privately owned, there are no parks or other such amenities you'd expect if it was a regular neighborhood. Instead, everyone's collecting rent and everything costs money. But, at least it's (mostly) walkable.
We also went to San Marcos, a bit further south of Austin, where Yumi and I (and Sophie🐶) met. The entire college campus area has been re-developed and I'm not a huge fan. The new shiny buildings with heaps of different restaurants are nice, but it's lost the charm and character of yore. I should've known it was going to happen when our little hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, El Charro (which was next to a used tire store), was replaced with some place selling fancy mixed cocktails. College towns should be a bit dirty, no?
Valentino's, the pizza place in the square is a good example. "In the old days" the store was classic 80's / 90's pizzeria. Walk in and it's a bit dark, there's some arcade games, and a random selection of hair bands are playing. When you placed your order you could feel a little bit of disdain and instead of a number you get a playing card. That's all gone. Now it's bright and airy. There's a proper bar, not just "pint or pitcher" for beer. And full wait staff. It feels wrong.
But, most critically, the pizza – the pizza hasn't changed. They still make the dough in house and it still crisps up just so. Maybe not all change is bad.
We flew back to Japan and we're all happy to be home. By day 10 in America, we had spent the entire time going full-throttle meeting people, going places, and doing things and we were all tired and ready to get back into our regular routine again.
Before the flight I bought the extra Mario Kart levels to give us something new to do on the plane. I really like this "expansion pack" model with Mario Kart. For ¥2,500 we get new 48 new courses to play and they're delivered over the next year or so. Half the price of a new game and we regularly get new content without needing to buy new games.
The flight was mostly uneventful. The main mishap was that despite me updating my reservation via the app to include kids meals and Asian Vegetarian meals for the adults, none of them got saved. And as we were coming America, this means there's no rice dishes and nothing that Leo would eat. He survived on half of the bagel he didn't eat for his breakfast and some random bread / butter we could scrounge up.
What was annoying was that the staff didn't apologize for their system messing up and instead told me to check with the ground staff next time. I shouldn't need to do that? And I've asked this before, but why aren't children's reservations set to automatically include a kids meal?
Once we landed in Japan everyone exhausted. But since this is a fully-developed country (and Japan at that) we were able to send our luggage to our house via kuroneko (Japanese fedex), to be delivered the next morning and enjoy a nice rail trip on the Narita Express to Totsuka. Leo ate the food he missed most, a salmon onigiri before falling asleep.
Once in Totsuka, we took a taxi home, brushed our teeth, and collapsed in bed – almost exactly 24 hours after we started the journey from the hotel.
And speaking of Salmon Onigiri, Leo missed them so much he had them the next day (Sunday) for breakfast as well. And some for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Monday. Onigiri is Leo's life force.
I subscribed to a new blog brr.fyi. It is chronicling life in Antarctica through the winter. I've only read a few posts so far, but it's well written and is quite thought provoking – seeing what it takes to keep humans alive in such harsh conditions.