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Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Perfect vacation and perfect aggravation
All good marriages hinge on compromise, no matter what the couples' cultural backgrounds. Remove compromise and the open door of married life soon swings awry.
"Ahem . . ." My wife clears her throat.
"I prefer a different analogy. One where compromise in marriage is compared to the proper blend of sugar and cream in a cup of rich coffee."
"Oh shut up. What do you know?"
In response, she can't decide whether to stick out her tongue or tweak my nose. So she compromises and does both.
So it goes. Somehow we have given-and-taken our way through three decades of international marriage. Lately, however, compromise has hung its hinge ("Stirred its blend!" she shouts.) on an even further aspect of our married life.
That being, where to spend our annual vacations.
In the past, I have sometimes commented on my need as a foreign resident to have regular breaks from Japan. Either that or go nuts.
"Go nuttier," she corrects.
But the main point is simply getting away from the Tokyo rat race, where the reward for hard work is usually more hard work, followed by dementia and death.
In the old days, back when our kids were little, our destinations were pre-booked. If traveling in Japan, we targeted my wife's homestead in Kyushu. If journeying stateside, my own hometown served as bull's-eye. Yet, these days our aim is off in both directions.
For one thing, my wife's homestead is gone. Her folks have passed away, her siblings have moved on, and her old house has been sold and demolished. If we visit, the only thing to do is to kick about an open lot. We are not that fond of gravel.
My hometown, meanwhile, still thrives with relatives, including my parents and sisters. Yet, in this case my sons have moved on and pulling everyone together is tougher than solving a book of Killer Sudoku.
So . . . Where do we go?
"THE beach!" I say at once. "Or at least 'a' beach! Any beach!"
I have an ancient vacation formula scribbled somewhere in my Midwestern DNA. Beach = sun = fun!
But the veto is instant. My wife almost grew up on a Kagoshima beach, with that now vacant lot being a mere Frisbee toss from crashing waves and frothing surf.
"Meaning," she says, "I am sick of the beach. I moved away 30 years ago and still find sand between my toes."
Plus, she has that Japanese female phobia of sunlight. In the summertime, she carries a parasol everywhere, even to bed. A vampire would choose sunshine before she ever would.
The mountains? In this case, we both turn thumbs down. I would rather eat a rock than go hiking and my wife feels the same.
"In fact," she says, "I would love to see you eat a rock."
As for renowned sites and related sightseeing, we always quarrel over whose history is more boring.
Once in Virginia, I begged her to let me drive to Appomattox.
"Don't you know! That's where Lee surrendered to Grant!"
She burst with excitement. "Bruce Lee surrendered!? To Hugh Grant!? Incredible! Let's go!"
But when she learned the truth, she declined. Meanwhile, I have seen enough castles, temples and shrines on Japanese TV to last a lifetime. Why would I want to visit some place where I couldn't flip the channel?
What does that leave then?
"Cities!" she hoots. "Cities, cities, cities!"
OK, cities. I don't mind a new and exotic city. But "cities" is not quite what she means. Full translation . . .
"Stores, stores, stores!"
Which further means shopping, shopping, shopping. Not my favorite thing.
To me, shopping on the Champs-Elysees or on Fisherman's Wharf or wherever is all the same. Sort of how a root canal would be the same, no matter what the dentist's accent. If I am going to be miserable, I would rather endure that misery closer to home.
Of course, the conclusion that many couples find is to travel separately. We have good friends, for example, who routinely split apart at vacation time. One goes off to poke around in dusty museums while the other relaxes in seaside resorts.
And yet . . .
What good is the sunset at Mont. St. Michel when you are viewing it alone? How yummy is that trattoria in Florence when you have no one to share your wine? And what fun is any travel at all, when you can only sit and argue with yourself?
"OK, OK," I tell her. "I give in. I will shop. At any place, for any length of time. Just as long as we're together."
"No, no, no," she replies. "We don't have to shop if you don't want to. I'll follow along wherever you want to go. Just name the place and I'm ready."
You see. Everything hinges on compromise. In the end, the destination does not matter at all; the being together does.
"Especially," she adds, "if I can watch you eat a rock."