"How many colours do you see in a rainbow?"
- my driving instructor.
Later on the day he was born, I went with Naoko's parents to see Aran and check on Naoko. When I held him for the first time, it was as if someone had handed me a live hand grenade. I was almost
surprised when he moved in my arms, not expecting him to be as strong as he was. At that moment the universe changed. There was now a person who depended on me totally and entirely for his well
being, and I would no longer consider my own welfare above all others. When I fell in love with Naoko it was a gradual realisation that this person was an important part of my life, and there was
always the possibility that she might choose not to spend her life with me. I must admit that, as is probably the case in any relationship, there was also some doubt in my mind in the early
stages as to whether I wanted a relationship with her, and whether I wanted a relationship at all, or whether I would be better off remaining single. But with Aran, the realisation was instant,
and irreversible. This was my son, and I loved him. No indecision, no doubts, no grey area. And I was totally over the moon about it.
As of course, were Naoko's parents. I had often heard it said that any objection to an international (or any other) marriage by the parents of either party is overwhelmingly washed away by the arrival of a grandchild. From the very first day, Naoko's parents doted over Aran like babbling idiots. And any reservations that they may have still harboured about me were distant memories, blown away by a baby's smile. The only reason this time in my life was not perfect was the fact that my father was many miles away, and could not see him every day like Naoko's parents could, and indeed he would not see his grandson for several months. It was also a terrible shame that my mother would never see him at all.
After four days, Aran came home. Naoko's mother was a little over protective when Aran started crying as I put him in the child seat, and insisted on Naoko carrying him in her arms instead, which was of course much more dangerous. Once we got home the world revolved around him, as did our lifestyles. I had a busy week at work after which I entered my summer holidays, and spent every available moment helping out at home, since Naoko was on the baby shift, waking every three hours to feed Aran, and trying to do other things in the brief periods when he wasn't demanding her full attention. Naoko and Aran slept in a downstairs room to be closer to the kitchen and bathroom, and I slept upstairs to get undisturbed sleep so that my job would not suffer. Occasionally, as we sat feeding Aran in the wee hours of the morning, he would be suckling away contently and we would dare to turn on the television, in the vain hope that we could muster a long enough attention span to understand what was being broadcast and see what was happening in the world. After a few nights of watching snippets of various sports, I realised it was the Olympics that I was watching. I have no idea to this day how many medals Japan, (or Ireland, or anybody,) won, but am reasonably sure that they were both represented there. (I definitely saw people waving flags!). We were too busy having our own "Baby Olympics", with events like the "speed diaper changing", in which you have to minimise the time the baby's bum is exposed so that he doesn't poop on the carpet (As I changed Aran's diaper I was often reminded of the teams of people who change tyres on Formula I cars!), and the endurance event of "rocking a baby to sleep" where you try to get the baby to sleep before the lullaby you are singing starts working on yourself. In all seriousness though, after half an hour of crying, and wriggling, and finally closing his eyes as he drifted into a tentative slumber only to flinch back awake at the last moment because a car drove by outside, or because I stepped on a creaky floorboard, when that little baby finally felt secure and comfortable enough to fall asleep in my arms, I felt as if I was, for just that one moment, the most powerful man on earth. It is a truly, totally overwhelming emotion.
Now, far be it from me to recommend this to anyone, and it is not exactly a topic one would bring up in normal polite company, but once I got into the habit of changing Aran's diapers, it became necessary to observe the nature of his, em, output. Some people have compared the poop of a new born baby to mustard, and to be honest there was a period after he was born when I could not consider that condiment with any seriousness as a candidate for adding to anything I would eat. But sudden changes in consistency and colour are strong indications of illness or other problems, so Naoko and I found ourselves staring intently into Aran's used diapers in the way some people stare into their tissues after sneezing. On only one occasion was I even (un)fortunate enough to change his diaper just as he was adding to the load, and that is an experience that ranks with the climbing of Mount Fuji as something that should be done no more than once in life. About ten days after he was born, Aran had a couple of days in which he appeared to be constipated, so we took him to the doctor, and were shown the technique to stimulate the rectum with a cotton bud in order to encourage bowel movement. This ranks about seven million steps above Mount Fuji on the list of things to be done no more than once in life.
At the beginning of September, things had settled down enough to consider actually going out and socialising. The activist Dave Aldwinkle, now known as Debito Arudou, was visiting Tokyo and a few of the members of the mailing list he ran met up in a Tokyo for a drink so I joined them. Even though this was advertised as a casual gathering, I expected the evening to involve a great deal of discussion of the issues that mailing list faced, bit I was surprised to find out that he had asked a reporter to attend, and in the course of the evening I found myself biting my tongue rather than commenting on the discussion because it became more and more clear to me that this reporter was leading the conversation in such a way as to get controversial comments that he could use in an article. As it turned out, the main point of conversation that evening was an Irish ex-priest who had interrupted the marathon at the recent Olympics, as much of the evening was spent discussing such less important but more humorous topics. After we finished our drinks, everyone agreed to go into the nearby KabukiCho district of Shinjuku to investigate recently reported hotels that refused service to foreigners. I had not expected that to take place that evening, and also had a long train journey home ahead of me, so I made my excuses and left. I have a mixed impression of this Debito Arudou fellow; while I fully agree with what he is trying to do, I find myself thinking more and more that he is not doing it in the best way possible. But he is the first of his kind in Japan, and is doing much more than I would dare to do, and suffering more because of it than I would be ready to, so I will not criticize him here, or anywhere, until I can say that I am in a position to do a better job.
Also in September, faced with the overwhelming and now irrefutable necessity, and without any more plausible excuses, I enrolled in a driving school. Once I had clarified at the reception that I could speak and read Japanese with no difficulty (they gave me a test!), no further mention was made of the fact that I was not Japanese. Indeed, it was not until about half way through the course that I even found out that English language versions of the texts used were available, and that was by accident when I overheard one of the instructors talking to two Chinese students about a Chinese language version. During the orientation lecture on the first day, the instructor was talking about differing perceptions and mentioned the fact that in some cultures there are only four colours in a rainbow rather than the traditional seven known in the west. This instructor became my assigned instructor for driving practice, and during our first session, he asked me how many colours I saw in a rainbow. I told him I saw the usual seven, and that the four he referred to as being seen by some cultures was probably attributable to smog.
Lessons went reasonably smoothly. I had had two or three lessons from my father some fifteen years previously, and remembered them surprisingly well. (I had given up that time for health reasons; I nearly gave my father a heart attack when I barely missed hitting a parked car.) In the course of nineteen hours of driving practice I only stalled twice, once on a crossroads and once during my provisional test at the end of the first stage. The former was probably due to being flustered because my usual instructor was off that day, and my lesson was being given by some old geezer with an incomprehensible accent who kept babbling in a low voice that destroyed my concentration. The latter was due to nerves, as I forgot to release the handbrake after starting the engine. It was a good thing, though, because they do not deduct points for stalling during the test, and it shook me up enough to make me refocus more intently on the basics. The only other problem I had was occasionally forgetting which way I had the wheels pointed when I was reversing and turning at the same time, as I tried to picture the vehicle moving backwards. I could only attend on weekends, and had my course interrupted by another trip to the states, so I took a while longer than most students to finish the required number of hours, but in the end I got my license without any real difficulty, passing the tests at both stages on the first attempt.
One part of the test consisted of a written test, containing true or false type questions. I found this approach annoying, because some of the questions contained three or four points, and if even the least significant of them was incorrect the entire answer should be considered false. This led me on some questions to believe that the other points were also false, or were false under the conditions of that question, which led to more confusion than enlightenment. In the end I got all but one questions right on the provisional test, and am still bugged by not knowing what one I got wrong. But I was a lot better off than one other young Japanese girl, who claimed her inability to pass the provisional test at the driving school was due to being unable to understand the complicated Japanese in which they were written.
The driving school was licensed to carry out the road tests as well, so when I went to the license centre it was only necessary to do the written test. I wondered why the Saitama licensing centre is so inaccessible, being at the end of a little used train line, or in my case a one hour bus ride away. This was only made worse by the fact that the test is carried out early in the morning, making it necessary to get up at a god-awful hour to attend. Pre-test cram schools, held in the hours before the test, offer a last chance refresher course and hints at the questions that had been used in recent days testing, but require boarding the very first train to arrive in the pre dawn hours. I did not consider myself that desperate.
The centre is an excellent example of the tendency to wait in Japan. After queuing to hand in the application forms, people queued to get into the test room, (where I was amazed to see people still studying! I could not believe that bringing notes and textbooks into the exam room was allowed. The potential risk of cheating, and the potential risk of being falsely accused of cheating would make it unthinkable in any other country.), waited while those after them (about two hundred people took the test on the day I did) were processed by the two people administering the tests, waited for the results to be announced, and once they had, the successful applicants queued to get their photos taken and be awarded their licenses. In all the process took about half a day. I must admit that the wait for the results to be announced did make me nervous, and it was a relief as well as a delight to see my number on the board. After fifteen years in Japan, I now had the freedom to drive. The first journey I took was to the supermarket, in the rain, after dark, to buy beer.
If you dropped in by accident, the story starts here;
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