by J.M. Sylvan
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
May 17, 2009
A MOMENT WITH HUGO CHAVEZ
LOS ANGELES -- Stopping into the Misawa bookstore for a fun book to read as I prepared to travel for another 10 days, I spotted T.C. Boyle's newest book, The Women.
T.C. (Tom Coraghessan) is the father of my son's best friend. They live in an amazing Santa Barbara house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. He recently made time to write a book about Wright, his lovers and wives. The cover of the book is designed in the format of stained glass windows that F.L.W. created for his buildings, giving the book a Japanese flavor that caught my eye.
Shortly after starting to read, I learned that Frank was heavily influenced by Japanese arts and crafts and had been invited to design the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. I decided then that I had to see the Imperial, one of the world's most exclusive accommodations, when I visited the city a week later.
After my exhausting job was completed in Misawa, my daughter and I visited Kyoto to join the pilgrimage of people from around the world who were viewing the cherry blossoms. We were happy and relaxed after staying at the most exquisite Roykan in the city, Hiragiya. Spoiled by soaking in the hot mineral baths of Hacinoche and Kyoto, and sleeping on super comfy futons, set up as we had dinner served on a dozen small plates, we were in fine form and terribly happy.
I felt revived after days of visiting and praying at Buddha statues housed in enormous ancient temples. I walked so long and hard around the shrines and cherry trees of Kyoto that I wore through my new shoes.
My daughter, Sydney, joined me in a suburb of Tokyo to celebrate her 23rd birthday with our former Japanese exchange student, Yuki, and her family. Yuki lived with us 16 yeas ago, for a year, while she completed her senior year in high school - in English!
Yuki is now married to Nöel and they have Annie, who is 9 years old. Annie attends language school on Saturdays and now speaks Japanese, English, Korean and a tiny bit of Spanish). Yuki is thrilled to be pregnant again and due in June. She works as an engineer for an auto manufacturer, as does her husband. She translates into English and he into Hindi. He was born in India and they met at a language school. Her parents where not too keen on her marrying outside of her culture, especially to an Indian, but their relationship is very loving and strong after being together for 12 years, 10 of them as married people.
Sydney and I had the good fortune of staying with them for six days. They were the perfect host and hostess, encouraging us to try many different kinds Indian and Japanese food, showing us the sites of Yokohama, Tokyo, and giving us tips on the best places to travel in Kyoto and Hachone. Yuki even wrote instruction in Japanese so that we could navigate taxis, trains and buses.
Their home was a house, not an apartment - a real luxury in the densely populated cities of Japan. We marveled at the heated bamboo floors, the energy-efficient kitchen, laundry and bath and the multiuse rooms. Each night, after they first use the room for exercise and stretching, Nöel carefully takes their futon out of the closet and spreads it out on a tatami mat where he and Yuki sleep.
They have a tiny television, washing machine and fridge, but very fancy toilets with many choices of comforts. I love the heated seats and the many types of sprays.
Yuki rides her bike to the market almost daily on extremely busy streets. The couple has just one car, so they rely on public transportation, biking and walking to get to many places nearby, such as Annie's schools, pocket parks and local restaurants. We enjoyed the Japanese sensibility as it is found in all their efforts at conservation and city planning
For our last day in Japan, Yuki planned a full day of sightseeing that included going to a large city park, filled with Sunday picnickers who'd come to view the bursting, beautiful cherry blossoms. We had tea in an ancient teahouse there and then joined the throngs taking photos of one another, each trying to capture the magic of the blossoms.
Yuki remembered my request for a side trip to the Imperial Hotel. After enjoying the park, sightseeing from a rooftop observatory in a tall government building and then a long lunch, we headed over to the hotel.
As we approached it, we noticed many official-looking security guys. The four of us wondered what important person was visiting the hotel. As I was taking photographs of the building and researching the possibility of having coffee at the café in the open lobby, I heard a commotion.
President Hugo Chavez and his bodyguards, translators and front men made their grand entrance. I searched for Annie and Yuki to alert them that the controversial president of Venezuela had arrived. I suggested to Yuki that she might want Annie to see all the hoopla. Once we got close to President Chavez, who was drinking espresso and talking to individual people in the crowd, his bodyguard pointed out Annie to him. He swooped down and picked her up, talking to her in Spanish. Yuki knows Spanish and was able to respond. What a photo op! Their picture appeared on a Website the next day.
Sydney was then determined to talk with him too and waited her turn in line, He moved to her next as she had her hand out to shake his. He stopped to talk with her at length. (Yuki said it was a good half-hour).
They discussed baseball; world peace and how we are all related like brothers and sisters. He asked her what she was doing in Japan and she replied, visiting her Mom, who just finished working for U.S. military families. President Chavez started to yell, "Where is Mom? Where is Mom?"
I had been fishing around in my purse for Sydney's Los Angeles City Council business card, with the intention of handing it to him as she spoke.
The three of us talked about children, especially children with disabilities. President Chavez reported to us that he consulted with Fidel Castro about outreach to disabled children. With his help, they were able to help 600,000 children that had been shamefully hidden by their families because of the stigma attached to disability. He then pushed away the microphones and cameras and spoke to us about his respect for President Obama and his hopes for the upcoming gathering where the two would meet.
Sydney and I were thrilled to be in the presence of such a charismatic leader. He has enormous presence. We came away from our fated meeting with him feeling more optimistic for a bridging of cultures and world peace.
This meeting would not have happened if I hadn't picked up Tom's book at the Misawa Bookstore. Isn't life grand and wonderfully surprising sometimes?!
AR Correspondent J.M. Sylvan writes about her travels, adventures and work as a child psychologist. Names and other identifying information have been changed to preserve the privacy of family and friends.