Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Back to BLUE

I kind of figured this was going to happen, but not quite like this.

Today was the day I went in to get my Japanese driver's license renewed. This is an ordeal I go through every five years. It's not particularly painful, but it does involve a bit of low-key hassle. When I get my Oregon driver's license renewed, all I usually have to do is fill out a form, answer some questions, do an eye test, have my picture taken, and pay a fee. The Japanese license is the same, but they also add a one-hour traffic safety lecture (which they say is going to cost extra from later this year). Again, it's not painful, but it is a bit of a hassle.

This time I went in with some trepidation. That bizarre and oh-so-aggravating yellow line incident in Tokyo a few weeks ago has still been very much in my thoughts. The officer that gave me the ticket told me not to worry, insisting it would all be over once I paid the fine. I had a nasty feeling that things wouldn't be quite so simple. I've had other people tell me that when a policeman says something like that, he means that the infraction will be stricken from your record if it stays otherwise clean for a period of a few months. I didn't have that luxury. Still, during the questioning, there was never any word of any infractions on my part. I held out some small hope that the officer in Tokyo had told the truth.

Before we went into the lecture, each of the license renewal applicants was asked to create an ID number code. Then we were seated in the little classroom, and the instructor gave us her spiel. She mainly outlined recent changes to the traffic laws (i.e. new and improved opportunities for the government to get money from the hapless and the ignorant). Then we were given a garden variety traffic safety video to watch. When it was all over, we were told that our licenses would be placed in envelopes with our respective ID number codes and left in a rack by the door so we could pick them up on our way out.

When we left the classroom, we found instead that the officer who had questioned us was in the lobby handing out the licenses individually. I was the last out of the room (because I paused behind a disabled man just in case he needed help). When I came into the lobby, I noticed that there was a group of police offers milling about behind the one that was handing out the licenses. I came over to get mine, and immediately the group of officers converged, looking at me with expectant (predatory?) grins. My name was called in a somewhat patronizing-sounding tone of voice, and my license was handed to me without so much as a glance in my direction. When I looked at my new license, however, the group of officers immediately erupted into laughter.

My new license is BLUE. No, that's NOT a good thing. The one I had before was GOLD, i.e. no incident for at least ten years. A gold license is a very good thing to have. It carries weight. It reduces the cost of your car insurance. It (usually) makes policemen more willing to listen to your side of the story. Now I'm back to blue as in basic. As in right back to square one. As in it'll take at least ten years to get my insurance rates back down.

If my friends are right, this wouldn't have happened if my renewal had come up in two more months. And all this because I failed to notice and understand a puzzling and seemingly meaningless yellow line that hadn't been there before and changed lanes with no traffic around me whatsoever. And two cops just happened to be stationed there. Yes, I was given the standard , "No matter what, an infraction is an infraction," line during the lecture. I also got doused with the term "traffic safety" till I was about ready to puke a yellow line of my own onto the ground. Still, while real crimes with real victims continue to go unpunished if not simply ignored by the police while they tear aggressively into the enforcement of laws that are widely unknown and barely make sense, it's hard to take any of this seriously. And during the lecture we were warned that the next thing the police may start landing on is distance between cars. The space they specified seemed preposterous (double what I was taught in the US), and I don't see how they could enforce it objectively anyway. I'm all in favor of traffic safety and enforcement of laws, but when those are used as a pretense for pseudo-taxation or a plain money-making scam...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Loyalty, Arrogance, or Simple Cluelessness?

In the mid 90s, the formerly omnipotent Liberal Democratic Party (which is neither liberal, democratic, nor a party) suddenly found itself cracking when long-building pressures finally reached the breaking point. Several prominent figures defected to form their own parties, most of which eventually wound up being swallowed up by other, larger factions or reabsorbed back into the LDP. However, one powerful and charismatic politician, Ichiro Ozawa, came to be the face of the opposition, and his new Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) quickly grew in both power and popularity. Eventually it came to be the most serious challenge to the LDP's might, perhaps more than the rival Socialist Party ever was even in its heyday. Formerly an outspoken conservative, Ozawa suddenly became an even more vociferous liberal and populist, and his friendly-looking face became an ubiquitous feature of every political issue, not to mention every election. Behind that smile was an awful lot of venom; he was not afraid to speak bluntly on issues, even to the point of being inflammatory. However, he clearly had his finger on the pulse of the public. People began to talk about him serving as Prime Minister as a matter of "when" not "if". He was immensely popular, and his clout gained rapidly.

All this seemed to come to a crashing halt in 2004 when Ozawa became entangled in a pension fund scandal (a matter I seem to remember posting about before, but I can't find it). Stubbornly maintaining his innocence, he nevertheless resigned as president of the DPJ. He was followed by two successive presidents, each of whom resigned after only about a year of service, but it was widely believed that he was still the one calling the shots. Then, in 2007, he was reelected to the post, surprising no one. People began to speculate again as to whether he would become Prime Minister even though his attitude and speech became both more bullying and more provocative. In fact, in 2008 he was actually elected PM by the DPJ-controlled House of Councillors (upper house of the Diet), a victory that was quickly overridden by the LDP-dominated House of Representatives (lower house of the Diet) and replaced with LDP member Taro Aso.

Perhaps inevitably, the LDP finally wore out its 50+-year welcome among the public, and a protest vote bouyed the DPJ into power. Ozawa still failed to find his way into the PM seat. Not long before the decisive election, he became embroiled in yet another scandal, this time with campaign financing, and his popularity immediately crashed. That led him to step aside as party leader in favor of Yukio Hatoyama, who is now Prime Minister. He didn't give up his membership in the DPJ, however, nor did he surrender his seat as a member of the Diet. He still has considerable clout in both; just as with Putin in Russia, few have any doubt as to who is really calling the shots in the current administration.

And now the scandal drama is spiraling out of control. Not only do we have even more campaign funding issues, but now there are also accusations of bribery, money laundering, and real estate speculation. Ozawa is firmly stuck in the center of it all, and now those close to him are falling (read "being arrested") one after another like a row of dominoes. But is the big guy himself taking any responsibility for it? Nope. He keeps shrugging it all off with excuses and buck passing. He is also refusing adamantly to quit either the party or his Diet seat even though polls now show around 70% of the public wants him to get his oshiri (お尻 - look it up) out of politics.

Prime Minister Hatoyama himself is now in hot water for saying publicly that he hopes Ozawa beats the rap. Common sense (or at least independent initiative) would seem to call for distancing himself from the fallen angel for the sake of himself and his party. Instead, for whatever reason, he seems to have shot himself in the foot...and the bullet may have gone clear through the bottom of the boat.

Meanwhile, the DPJ continues to keep its campaign promises seemingly in all the wrong ways, taking unilateral action in support of its various agendas without much thought about the impact. It's almost as if they are trying to kill with kindness the very general public they claim is the focus of their attention. The electorate that welcomed them with shouts of excitement is now increasingly raising its collective voices in a great big "Eh?" of doubt. That's bad enough even without the DPJ's leadership throwing all the public's trust into the dusty winter wind. In all the excitement of finally wresting control from the LDP, the DPJ leaders seem to have forgotten that the people voted them in, and the same people can vote them out again just as easily. You can bet the LDP is waiting, fangs and claws sharpened, ready to pounce into the next election.

(Why should I care? I can't even vote.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Birthday

January 9th, my birthday:

It was a Saturday, which was good...
...except I had to work, which wasn't good...
...but there were no classes, which was good...
...although there were entrance exams, which wasn't good...
...but that meant my work was finished early, which was good...
...except I had to stay late for "day duty", which wasn't good...
...though I was able to ask the entrance exam committee to lock up for me, which was good...
...but my wife asked me to drive over to pick up my daughter at her cram school, which wasn't good...
...except that her lesson was replaced by a test scheduled to end only around 8 p.m., which was good...
...though that somehow meant I had to wait in the parking lot till 9:40 p.m., which wasn't good...
...but I came home to find my wife had made a HUGE dinner for me, which was GREAT!

And then there was the day after my birthday:

We decided to take a trip to Tokyo to visit my wife's grandmother. Mentally she's sharp as a samurai sword, but her physical health has been declining rapidly over the past year. We've been making it a point to visit every few months both to stay in touch and to help her son keep house and take care of her.

In the past, whenever we went to visit my wife's grandmother, we always traveled by bus and train. However, last year we discovered that driving there wasn't so bad and did offer certain advantages. I've taken the crew there in my BLUE RAV4 every time since then without any trouble.

This time, as every time, I took the expressway into the city and got off at an exit that is less than a kilometer from the grandmother's house. The exit opens into the right lane of a three-lane, one-way boulevard. I then have to make a left turn onto a local road only about a block or two further down, so I have to get into the left lane as soon as possible. This time, as with every time so far, I was lucky enough to have a gap in the traffic as soon as I got off the expressway, so I was able to veer into the left lane almost immediately. However, the two cops that jumped out in front of me with traffic batons and ordered me to pull over were NOT the same as before.

"Do you know why we stopped you?" asked the older of the two officers a little too cheerfully while the younger one stood filling out a form on a clipboard. When I replied that I didn't, he pointed up the road and asked, "Do you see the yellow lines?"

I looked and, sure enough, there were yellow lines between all three lanes. They looked newly painted. At any rate, they certainly hadn't been there before!

"You crossed the yellow line!" the officer went on almost gleefully. "You can't do that! It's a violation! It also makes you a traffic hazard! Haven't you seen anything like this before?"

Obviously not. I know what yellow lines mean, but back home in Ibaraki they tend to be in places that make at least some degree of sense (though I didn't say that much to the officer).

"Well, please remember that in the future," continued the officer, "and try to pay more attention! Don't trust your navigation system! Use your eyes! Drive safe! Now if you'll excuse me..."

He and the younger officer then went all around my car, apparently looking for other things to nail me on. Fortunately there were none, not that they didn't try. The younger officer in particular seemed intent on coming up with something: "I think I saw someone in the back put their seat belt on after he stopped!" "We should have him hit his brakes again. I think one of his taillights isn't working right!" "Aren't his headlamps too dirty?" Fortunately, the older officer kept telling him there was no problem.

Finally, after several minutes, the older officer gave me a ticket for a 6000 yen (about $70) fine, saying, "Don't worry! All you have to do is pay this at a post office sometime during the next week, and it'll all be over. It won't go on your record or anything!" But then the younger officer came and practically thrust a clipboard in my face, snapping, "Write your full name at the bottom of this form, exactly as it is on your license! Now sign it! Do you have a name stamp? If so, stamp it here!" Then he tore off the top copy of the form and handed it to me, saying, "This is your copy. Go ahead and shred it if you like. But don't forget to pay the fine!" Then I was allowed to go.

As I made my way through the area, I noticed that almost all the major intersections had similar yellow lines between all the lanes about twenty meters before and after (meaning you can't change lanes if you realize you're about to miss your turn). All of them looked newly painted. Those few major intersections that didn't have such lines had signs up warning of upcoming road construction. I also noticed that almost every intersection with the new yellow lines had cops waiting there, whether on foot, in cars, or on motorcycles. They really seemed to be out in force, too. There were literally police everywhere we looked. And as we headed out again a few hours later, I saw at least two other vehicles nabbed for making lane changes within the yellow line areas.

To make matters worse, I couldn't help noticing that there are now new yellow lines painted all over the place on the expressways within Tokyo, too, some of them for a considerable distance before an important exit (meaning if you don't know it's coming well in advance, you could be seriously screwed)! If any public warning was made about any of this, I have no idea!

The Hatoyama government still says it plans to try to turn all the expressways into freeways (i.e. eliminate all tolls) and make public senior high school free. Doing so will require extra revenue from other sources, especially since they're also trying to put more money into social services. They've already shut down a whole bunch of civic projects to reduce costs, but it's well known that they're looking for other ways to get more funds. With that knowledge in mind, I can't help wondering if I've just fallen victim to a Dukes of Hazzard style "paint the curb yellow after a car parks there" type of trap to help fill the coffers of Boss Hawg of Tokyo if not all of Japan.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The (Jet) Trail to Oregon 2009, Chapter 2

Pt. III: New Year's Day - Salem
As it turned out, while the night of December 31 / early morning of January 1 was relatively quiet, January 1 itself was destined to be a day of parties. I tried very hard to pack everything in my bags, gave up, and put together another box to be mailed home. (Drat those new security regulations!) Then my family loaded up in the car and headed toward Salem.

My Uncle Craig had just gotten a new house up in the hills overlooking the Willamette River in the outskirts of Salem. This gathering of my mother's clan there was the first time for most of us to see it. The directions seemed easy enough; he and my aunt had once lived in a house a little further up the street, and we were given the location relative to that plus a description of the new place's design. Naturally, we ran into trouble. The house at the indicated location met the description in some ways but not in others. The name visible on the mailbox was wrong, though it was clear it had been removed a short time before. To make matters worse, no one was there. My mother hadn't bothered to bring the address along. I thought I had, but it turned out that I'd grabbed the wrong paper. I had e-mailed the address to my friend Don the night before, however, so I thought I remembered it well enough. That wasn't enough to convince everyone else. Another nearby house partly matched the description, so we wound up squabbling over which one was right.

I figured the most logical thing to do was to call Don and have him give me the address I'd sent him. I tried to use my sister's cell phone, and all I got was a recording saying that her account needed to be refilled. I then tried to use my mother's cell phone, and all I got was a screen message saying her battery needed recharging. Giving up on modern technology, we went down to the nearest supermarket, and I called Don on an old-fashioned pay phone. (Thank Heaven those are still around!) It turned out that I'd remembered the address correctly, so after doing a bit of shopping at the Safeway (mainly for antacid tablets, something I can't get in Japan) we went back to the house and found my cousin Brian and his wife waiting. My uncle had left the front door unlocked, so we went ahead and invaded. The rest of the clan started showing up a little later.

Both of my mother's siblings, their spouses, their children, and their children were there. (We were only missing the husband of one cousin.) I hadn't seen any of them for at least four years. Some of them I hadn't seen for longer than that. There were a few that I hadn't yet met at all. It was a nice gathering, made even better by an abundance of good food and drink. There was just one problem, however; the main purpose of the get-together was to watch the Rose Bowl game. One of the participating teams was University of Oregon (better known as the "Ducks"), so there was a lot of cheer and local patriotism being directed at that team. Not surprisingly, many if not most of the people at the gathering were wearing Duck colors. The problem was that I graduated from the Ducks' rival university, Oregon State (better known as the "Beavers"). The Beavers had done very well during the regular season, but they wound up crashing and burning during the final game leading to the bowl games, ending their year on a dismal note. It was up to the Ducks to carry Oregon's pride, but it was still hard for me to cheer for my university's bitterest rival. It also felt awkward to be there among all that green and gold clothing. I had a good visit there with my extended family, but I was still kind of relieved when Don arrived to take me up to Portland for the final leg of my journey.

Pt. IV: New Year's Day - Portland
It was my first visit to Don and Ladybug's house in northwest Portland. Ladybug was still recovering from sudden illness and emergency surgery, but it was good to see her in relatively good spirits. The fact that their daughter is the same age as my oldest students seemed kind of odd even if it was inevitable. (Then again, my own daughter is the same age as my youngest students.) We didn't stay there and visit very long, though, because we had an appointment at the McMenamins brewpub-restaurant on Broadway in Portland.

McMenamins has been something of a tradition during my irregular visits to Portland. It seems that we always end up at one of their locations at least once whenever I'm there. In fact, one surprise get-together in the late 90s wound up being attended by almost thirty people including high school and/or college friends and their spouses. Considering the number of "will try to be there" responses I'd gotten, I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be another large-scale event. It wasn't. Other than myself, Don, and Ladybug, only two others showed up. I was still very happy to see them, and we were probably better off in a more intimate environment anyway. When it comes to friends, I think I've been very fortunate (even if I've been told that adults aren't supposed to have friends).

To the wine, Newcastle Brown Ale, and all the food that I'd had that afternoon (not to mention the good eating and Rogue Ale I'd been enjoying all week)(CHRONIC [and very satisfying] DIET FAILURE!!!) I added two pints of Hammerhead Ale, a pint of rosy ale called IPA, a nice, fat beef sandwich, and plenty of McMenamins' famous fries before Ladybug started looking worn out. Don then ordered a take-out jug of Hammerhead, and we retired to his place for the night. The jug was well spent in reminiscing and generally chewing the fat. Then I bedded down for my last night in Oregon.

Pt. V: Back to the Land of the Rising Sun
I actually woke up with a little bit of a hangover (embarrassingly enough...), but breakfast at Shari's hit the spot. Then Don dropped me off at Portland International Airport. It was more than a little crowded there, but the e-ticket check-in system definitely sped things up. The only problem was that I didn't yet have a seat assignment. That made me nervous.

Security was tight, but the staff had the system running efficiently. I was a bit more prepared than I'd been in the past, too, so everything went by smoothly and easily. (I also appreciated the polite professionalism of the security staff at PDX. It made a nice contrast with some obnoxious sadists I've had to deal with at San Francisco.) My departure gate didn't seem so crowded, but it suddenly filled up about twenty minutes before boarding time, mainly with what seemed to be members of the same group.

I honestly have to wonder why some people seem to be so determined to draw attention to themselves. The group that came in appeared to be Chinese, but it was led by a man who was obviously an Oregon native. His University of Oregon sweatshirt didn't stick out so much, but his shorts and (sockless) sandals most certainly did, especially surrounded by all that winter wear. And of course he was the sort who couldn't talk unless it was loud enough to be heard across the room. I'm not sure whether he was a teacher, a missionary, or a tour guide (His personality suggested any of those), but he was clearly the spokesman for the group. Either they'd come off of a connecting flight or there had been a change in their schedule, because they had to get their boarding passes modified at the desk. Only after that whole mess got sorted out did they finally call me up and give me a seat assignment...five minutes before boarding started.

I didn't have an exit seat this time, and the flight back to Japan was warm, smooth, and quiet...for the most part. The man in the seat next to me, a rather large, middle-aged Chinese who was apparently part of the group, put his bag under the seat in front of him and his feet under the seat in front of me, i.e. my leg space. (I couldn't help noticing that, contrary to the new security regulations, many if not most of the members of that group had plenty of shopping bags in addition to their carry-on luggage, something I was told was no longer allowed, but somehow it didn't seem to matter. Is there a double standard, or did the flight crew just not want to deal with it?) It wasn't really a problem, though, because I spent most of the ten-hour flight turned on my side trying to sleep anyway.

The real fun started during the last hour or so of the flight. Another member of the group, sitting across the aisle from my row, apparently got a bit drunk. He suddenly started dressing down a couple of youngish American passengers who were sitting next to him. When they told him they were going to Taipei, he launched into an angry tirade of, "Taiwan is China! Taiwan has always been China! We'll take Taiwan back! America can't stop us! You try, BOOM! You die! Go home! Taiwan is China!" Now fully awake thanks to that uninvited patriotic alarm clock, I cracked open my window shutter a bit to have a peek outside. Next thing I knew, Mr. Red Face was shouting at me to shut it. I said a quiet apology and complied, leaving him ranting on semi-intelligibly in a mixture of English and Chinese to everyone around him as they tried desperately to ignore him. Sometimes he'd try to talk to me, asking me if I understood various Chinese words, and I'd just give him a polite shrug and go about my business. After the videos were all done and the plane was starting its descent, I went ahead and opened my shutter halfway, seeing as the people ahead and behind me had opened theirs. Suddenly a loud, screaming torrent of angry-sounding Chinese was being directed at me. I kept my back turned, but one of the flight attendants had to come and calm the guy down. (Needless to say, I was thankful for the big Chinese guy in the seat between us, and I was perfectly content to let him have part of my leg room!) Once again, while the plane was in its final descent, Mr. Red Face stood up, got his bag out of the overhead bin, apparently had trouble getting it back in again, and threw a screaming tantrum. Once again the flight attendants calmed him down, got his bag into the bin, and got him into his seat. He then sat and gibbered and thrashed his head about until the plane was at the terminal. Once there, he got up, got his bag out of the overhead bin, and then started pulling my bag out! I was prepared to scream for assistance, but apparently he thought better of it and put my bag back. Needless to say, I waited until he was well on his way out before I left my seat.

The overwhelming majority of the passengers on that plane (including Mr. Bermudas-and-Birkies-in-winter and his Chinese group) headed off for a connecting flight. There was almost no line at immigration, none at all at customs, and once again my suitcase was one of the first on the carousel. It was virtually a smooth walk from plane to parking lot...where I was hit with an almost $200 bill for eight days of parking. (My fault, I know...) My cell phone's battery was dead, so I just drove straight home from Narita only to find that my wife and kids were out Narita. Oh, well. At least I had some time to chill out.

A big thank you to everyone who put up with me during the trip! You're the best, and I hope to see you again soon!

And that, my friends, is the end of the story!

Monday, January 04, 2010

The (Jet) Trail to Oregon 2009, Chapter 1

I FINALLY made it over to visit the old stomping grounds. After four years of having my till-then annual pilgrimage torpedoed by budget concerns, death in the family, and Japanese mourning requirements, I was finally able to get myself on a plane to Oregon and back again. It literally was "myself", too; with the wife and kids tied down by various things (not least of which the lack of functioning passports), it wound up being a solo venture. Most likely that helped matters. The trip was booked much later than it probably should have, and I thought it miraculous that I could even pull it off.

Pt. I: The Trip Over
My departure wound up being an ironic comedy of errors. Jealous of my travel plans, my wife and kids had decided to take a short trip of their own together with my father-in-law. We wound up leaving the same day, but they headed out almost at the crack of dawn. I didn't have to be at the airport until early afternoon, so I slept in. By the time I got up, they were already well on their way to Hiroshima, where they would stay a couple of days. I then found that bags I'd hoped to use for my trip were gone, and I had to dig around for suitable replacements. People also kept showing up to see my father-in-law, and it wasn't always easy to get rid of them. By the time I finally got out of there, it was already too late for me even to dream of taking the bus or train to the airport, so I just drove there directly and parked, hoping it wouldn't wind up costing a vital organ afterward. I also realized halfway there that I'd gone off without my camera. That was just the beginning...

Portland is the nearest international airport to my parents' home in Waldport, but the domestic-only Eugene Airport is a lot closer. (There is a local airport at Wakonda Beach, but it's just a grassy field.) It used to be that I could only get to Eugene via San Francisco, so my last few trips home went that route. Imagine my surprise when the travel agency told me my flight would be routed through Portland! The reason was that Northwest Airlines had been bought out by Delta, expanding the number of routes. Stopping at Portland was certainly an option, and would certainly be less of a hassle, but I figured going on to Eugene would make things easier on my parents. I booked the connecting flight.

A little over a week before my departure, I was informed by my father that they were already planning to be in Portland for a family-related event. That meant there was no need for me to continue on to Eugene. It was already well past the cancellation deadline, but I figured I'd go ahead and make things easier on everyone, including myself. I went into New Tokyo International Airport (in Narita), put my passport in the newfangled "e-ticket" check-in machine, and then asked an attendant how I could go about canceling the connecting flight to Eugene.

You'd think it would be a simple matter of removing my name from the list. Nope. I managed to bring the whole system to a dead stop while staff ran about arguing over what to do. They also charged me an extra $500 for my troubles (which is probably more than the Portland-to-Eugene fare cost).

Live and learn.

In the end, I was given a window seat next to one of the over-wing exits on a Boeing 767. That meant extra leg room. Unfortunately, the insulation on the exit doors isn't as good as it is elsewhere in the cabin. I'd taken my sweater off at the airport (and packed it) because I was sweltering. Once the plane was at cruising altitude, however, I FROZE. And the little wisp of a blanket that they provide now wasn't much help at all. (How I miss the old flannel ones!) I wound up putting my heavy jacket back on, which wasn't very comfortable. Between that, the ample turbulence, and the toddler a few rows back that started wailing every fifteen minutes, it wasn't easy to get much sleep during the nine-hour flight to Portland.

There was also the matter of the new security rules. Thanks to that jackass that had tried to blow himself up on a plane over Detroit only a couple of days before, new laws had just been implemented. I'd been warned that security procedures at the airport might take longer, but they weren't that bad. All they did was go through my bags a couple of times and give me a good frisking just before I boarded the plane. (Interestingly, it was done by a female staffer. At Heathrow back in '94 that was NOT the case.)(DON'T TOUCH ME THERE!!!!) The real change came during the last hour of the flight before landing. All of the passengers were required to remain in their seats belted in with absolutely nothing on their person (but their clothes)(What were you thinking?), arms on the rests, and legs unfolded so as to be easily visible, all bags stowed. In my case that meant shedding the blanket, though I was allowed to keep my jacket on. Apparently some people either had a problem with the new rules or didn't understand the instructions, because a number (mostly non-Japanese Asians) kept getting up to go to the restrooms or get things out of their bags. The flight attendants were constantly having to order people to sit back down and buckle up, and the Captain kept having to reiterate over the PA that the plane would not approach the airport unless everyone complied. That didn't stop some people from just waiting until the flight attendants moved on and then getting up again, some more than once. (I kept hoping one or two idiots would be cuffed in their seats by an Air Marshal, but they weren't.) The last "hour" wound up taking a bit longer as a result, and the crew's nerves were clearly starting to fray. I don't know if it was really an effective deterrent against terrorism, but I was glad when we finally touched down under an appropriately gray Western Oregon sky. I was even gladder when my bag was one of the first to appear on the carousel.

Almost everyone on the plane moved on to a connecting flight. The shuttle bus going to the main terminal contained only about a half dozen people, most of whom were stressed-looking flight attendants. My parents and sister were waiting in the lobby, and they definitely seemed glad to see me.

The drive to Waldport wasn't particularly eventful, especially since I was only half awake the whole time, but it was still good to see the old country for the first time in four years.

Pt. II: On the Coast
I stayed at my parents' house in Waldport for most of my visit. I would've been perfectly content just to hang out there and enjoy some peace and quiet away from the usual grind. However, things weren't quite so dull. The first full day of my stay was cold but calm and clear, so we hiked around Cape Perpetua on the Giant Spruce Trail and around Devils Churn. The tide was high and the surf extremely rough, so the Churn put on quite an explosive display. After that we went down to Florence and had lunch at a pub-restaurant called the Firehouse (so named on account of the extensive collection of fire-fighting paraphernalia adorning its walls). After that jet lag started to catch up with me and the others were tired, so we just chilled out at home.

The next day was a typical one for the Oregon Coast, i.e. rainy. It was also very cold. That didn't stop us from shooting up to Lincoln City to hit the outlet mall. Mindful as I was of the restrictions imposed by the new security rules, I tried to keep my shopping to a minimum. I failed. It was all I could do to limit myself as much as I did. When we finally pried ourselves away and went shivering back to the car, we went back down to Newport (my birthplace!) and had brunch at the Pig n' Pancake. (I had eggs benedict with local dungeness crab instead of ham. Mmmm!) Then it was mostly more chill-out time at home. That evening we watched with amazement as the news reported unexpected snowfall in Portland and the total shutdown of traffic that resulted. Luckily, all we got was rain.

The day after that was our final shopping day. We went to a number of stores in Newport's main drag. Then I asked to be taken down to the old town area at the waterfront, a place I always like to visit, but we arrived to find it all torn up for road construction. I therefore limited myself to a little gift shopping at the Made in Oregon store there. Then it was back home to work on different things.

On my final full day in Waldport, which happened to be New Year's Eve, my sister had to work, and my mother had to take her turn doing volunteer work at the Alsea Bay Historic Interpretive Center. A strong southwestern wind was blowing, which brought the temperature up but also kicked up a storm. It was rainy and nasty all day with occasional thunder and lots of tree branches (if not whole trees) coming down. The only event of the day for me was a post office run followed by a quick drive-by to see the storm-driven ocean. Evening was a bit more eventful. It was a quiet New Year's Eve but enjoyable, spent watching classics and concerts on TV while drinking my sister's famous margaritas.

Then it was time to gather my stuff together, because the next day meant the next chapter of the trip. (To be continued...)