The Chicken Fiasco and Thoughts from My August

August has proven an interesting month. It’s the only full month I will spend in the United States this year. It’s also been full of business trips, pickleball tournaments, Japanese tourists, hotel management, and yes, house sitting for chickens.

The month began in Omaha, Nebraska where I played in the State Games of America pickleball tournament. I participated in both singles and doubles – being fortunate enough to win a gold medal in each. The city of Omaha and the drive there underwhelmed me, but I had fun. Check out a couple of the videos from the tournament.

After the State Games I returned to Colorado to begin my job as a Japanese translator/tour guide. The groups and people I encounter during these days make the job exciting. I do everything from Junior High camping trips to investors researching $3 million homes. Interesting things always happen as evidenced in my last blog post, I work long days and receive meager pay, but it gives me a lot of freedom and I’m working towards my 10,000 hours necessary to become an expert.

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Between these trips I did a couple of other things. First, my friend and doubles partner at the Tournament of Champions Matt came to check out Colorado and play some pickleball. I also listed my parent’s house on Air B&B last year, thinking we could make use of our 5 empty bedrooms. I have had several inquiries but the timing never worked out until now, when a college student from CC in his last couple weeks of school needed a quiet place to write his senior thesis. Check out our listing if you’re ever interested in a B&B in Colorado Springs.

Finally, part of my August consisted of house sitting for a friend on vacation. Predictably, the house part was easy: the 3 Chihuahuas and 6 chickens proved to be more complicated. When taking this assignment, the chickens didn’t seem like such a big deal. You feed them in the morning and evening, make sure they have enough water and collect their eggs. Or so I was told. Little did I know, an unidentified predator (that I have some choice words for) chose this very window of opportunity to launch his attack on my chickens. In the middle of the night I hear a commotion outside. By the time I look around, it’s quiet and I can’t see anything. Having to leave for a business trip the next day at 5:00 am, I entrust my mom with their care and making sure all 6 remain. I receive the worst new possible, she looks in the yard and finds the mutilated carcass of a chicken. I also find out that I have locked the dogs in the house and taken the key to Indiana. She has to collect the chicken carcass, climb onto the porch with a ladder to get into the house, and attempt to herd the chickens into their pen to avoid the previous night’s disaster. At this last task she failed, stating quote, “I don’t do chickens” at which point another chicken is doomed to coyote food status. Being in Indiana for business, I could do nothing but contemplate my miserable failure at the simple task of keeping 6 chickens alive for 1 week. The next day, however, my mom and brother did return, successfully conjuring up the courage to catch the chickens and place them into the coop. We pressed on with no further losses, and my friend was understandably disappointed but realistic about the situation.

The incident did make me think, however. Things like organic farming conjure up all kinds of positive images in my mind. Living off the land, getting back to nature, reducing environmental impact… all good things. But when it comes down to it, I’m actually terrible at farming and hate manual labor. Same with camping. I have this idealized view that rarely if ever is satisfied. I like campfires but there are usually way more mosquitoes than I remembered and there’s a rock under my sleeping bag. Sometimes there is a gap between who we want to be and what we actually enjoy. There are also things like working out that only make us feel good after we have done them. Maybe part of being happy is doing the things you love and overcoming discomfort to find enjoyment in the things you want to love.

That was my August so far. Next week I take a group of Japanese hikers around the State for a week-long trip. We go to Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak, Mt. Elbert and Aspen, among some smaller stops along the way.

Stories from Nearly Disastrous Days

As a travel professional, you learn that experiencing nearly disastrous days is a given. Heck, sometimes you even have actually disastrous days, like the unmitigated disaster of leading my clients through a blood-sucking leach-infested forest, which you can read about here. It’s what you do with these experiences though, that either puts a positive, memorable spin on them or just turns them into plain old crappy days.

I began my summer guiding in Colorado last week, and already we’ve had some minor incidents. The first day, I took a Japanese high school group to remove graffiti and clean streets in a low-income neighborhood. Part of their American educational experience was to learn about the different facets of American society and interact with them. We leave Union Station in downtown Denver and are supposed to alight at Perry Street, 6 stops away. Just before Knox Street, I hear the words “Next Stop Perry Street”, panic, and tell everyone to jump off the train. I then discover that we’ve gotten off a station too soon, feel like the dumbest tour guide in the world, and have to wait 15 minutes for the next train. Luckily the students and teachers were nice about it.

Arriving at the streets we were going to clean, we discover that there is almost no graffiti or garbage to throw away. Instead, it is blazing hot. We doodle around for two hours, picking at some candy wrappers, pulling weeds and my favorite – playing baseball with balled-up work gloves. Since it’s still early, we head back to Denver, give the students some free time to go shopping, and call it a day. I suppose flexibility is another essential trait when working in the travel industry.

The next day, I meet a different group of Junior High girls and their teachers, who want to go to the Red Rocks Amphitheater, then go shopping. Ready at 12:30 for a bus that is supposedly leaving at 1:00, we wait and wait for a bus that does not arrive. Apparently the driver had received instructions to leave at 2:00. I am apologizing and doing my best to keep the girls entertained, but there is only so much you can do.

The bus finally arrives, and we’re off to Red Rocks. I tell them all about the outdoor amphitheater and how great it is – only to discover that a) we only have 10 minutes to see it, b) it’s raining and c) it’s not even open because the band that is playing in the evening is tuning up. I’ve learned that it’s best not to hype things up that you aren’t sure about but when you’re going to a specific place to see something and it’s closed, you’re toast. We continued on the shopping, where thankfully a monument to capitalism – the American shopping mall – is open rain snow sleet or hail.

It’s been a fun summer so far and I continue to learn. Whether in Japan or America, my attitude dictates the experience for my entire group – dealing with the inevitable challenges and managing their expectations makes their experience so much better.

After going to Rocky Mountain National Park again on Wednesday, I leave for Nebraska and the State Games of America pickleball tournament on Thursday. Wish me luck!

This is what it's all about

The people are what it’s all about

Life in Limbo

I have been traveling a lot. I love it and I chose to do it, but it gets tiring just the same. Since my last post, I flew to Oita Prefecture on Japan’s Southernmost major island of Kyushu for a work seminar. I learned all about the Walk Japan business in what was the largest gathering of foreigners fluent in Japanese I have ever attended. Later I flew to Tokyo and took the bullet train to Nagano where we had a 4th of July pickleball event (not really, we just happened to be playing pickleball on July 4th). I came back to Tokyo, only to wait all day for a plane to Portland that I was destined not to board (I’m flying standby). I then got a great last-minute deal on a hotel close by, waiting the next day for another doomed attempt at Portland. Frustrated, I got a bus to Tokyo’s international airport and flew to Seattle, where I am currently staying in a youth hostel waiting to take the bus to Portland in the morning. It is an elusive city.

Sunset in Ooita

Sunset in Oita

All of this waiting, however, provided me with plenty of time for reflection and for work on my travel website, which I will reveal soon. My conclusion upon pondering is that I am thankful for where I am right now. A year ago after coming back from Africa I didn’t know what I wanted to do. More importantly for me I think, I didn’t know where I wanted to do it. I now have a couple of jobs I love and creative, interesting projects. I am working towards bigger and better things. Life is crazy but it is so much better than being bored.

Some people mistake my like of Japan for dislike of America. I don’t dislike the States, it just never felt like home for me. It doesn’t make me want to dig down and stay. I am a little fish in a very big pond, and while speaking Japanese makes me an interesting novelty, it’s not necessarily very useful. Sometimes I describe it to people like this: “In America, I look like I should belong and as the conversation goes on people gradually realize how different we are. In Japan, I obviously don’t look like I belong, but as the conversation goes on people realize how similar we are.” I like that. People tell me all the time that as a foreigner, you can never fully be accepted as Japanese. Perhaps that’s true, but instead of trying to be accepted as Japanese I think I’m content with just being accepted.

A final note to please use common sense and at least gain a cursory knowledge of world events when traveling abroad. Also, eavesdropping makes for great blog material. The other day in Narita Airport, I overheard a 19-year old American kid from Texas chatting up three Russian girls. After hearing they were from Russia, he couldn’t remember if Russia was still communist and said he vaguely remembered something about a wall. He then asked if they were Sophomores or Juniors in high school, at which point they had no clue what he was saying and the conversation started falling apart. I’m not saying everyone needs to be expert world historians – just be interested in the world around you and aware that language can be a barrier or a bridge.

That’s all for now. I’m headed tomorrow to my brother’s wedding in Eugene, Oregon. Congratulations Jon and Makaya, I’m happy for you.