In the beginning—waaaaaay back when my husband and I were young—the Air Force in its infinite wisdom sent us to Japan for four years. We lived at Tachikawa, a village near Tokyo where a rather large American AF base was located.
For a young bride from North Dakota who’s previous foreign travel had consisted of driving the 150 miles to Winnipeg for her honeymoon, going half way around the world to the exotic and mysterious East was the thing of dreams.
Dreams, however, as I was soon to find out, are not always what they are cracked up to be. Our little “paddy house” —so named because of our housing area’s proximity to rice paddies—was modest by any standard. A ball dropped on the floor at the front door would roll without hesitation to the back wall of the living room since apparently no level was used when the house was built. The windows were covered by plastic that, among other things, impeded the view and kept out the cool summer breezes. Oh, and the walls were paper thin…literally.
But, we were in heaven. It was a joy to experience each cultural difference (well, almost each cultural difference…we won’t talk about the fertilizer) and every day brought new surprises.
Since my husband was in a squadron that was frequently gone, I grew independent and confident. I took care of the household and got a job at the University of Maryland—Japan branch, of course. I could drive on the left side of the road, ride out earth quakes, prepare my home for typhoons and eat raw fish with the best. Things North Dakota never prepared me for. My husband got to know the Far East very well, and I got to form a relationship with Japan.
However, as is often the case with relationships, the going was not always smooth. Case in point was our decision to have the outside of our house painted.
Because it was U.S. Government controlled, our house had to meet certain specifications when we “improved” it. Only a limited number of colors were available, only certain companies (government approved) could be used, and certain standards had to be met.
The Japanese company we chose was easy to work with. We picked a light beige with brown trim and eagerly awaited the arrival of the painting crew. (Which we figured would number in the teens since the Japanese at that time used an enormous amount of labor to do a job).
Hubby Don, of course, was out of the country on the appointed day, but I happily greeted the enormous painting crew and showed them around the outside of the house with instructions for what we expected to be done. They bowed and smiled and assured me everything was under control as I jumped into my Chevy and headed off to work.
Eight-plus hours later I got home and as I drove down the street toward my house, I was thrilled to see the beige and brown color scheme had worked so well. The house looked terrific. I parked the car and slowly strolled from front to back savoring the really great job the painters had done. It was ever better than I had hoped for.
Until I got to the fourth wall.
It was green.
Not beige. Green.
It was too late to call the painters that day, so bright and early, and as calmly as I could, I called the company that we had hired.
“What have you done to my house?”
“What do you mean?” a confused Japanese gentleman answered.
“What have you done to my house…three walls are beige and ONE IS GREEN.”
“Yes,” he concurred. “We ran out of beige paint and all we had on the truck was green.”
My heart was pounding.
“But…but I wanted ALL THE WALLS THE SAME COLOR.”
“Ah, so. But why, missy? You only look at one wall at a time.”
So, how do you argue with THAT logic?
Well, I howled. “I WANT ALL MY WALLS TO MATCH.”
And, eventually they did. But not right away. It took a lot of work and a neighbor who spoke flawless Japanese before we got things straightened out.
The experience was a lesson is international living. Cultures are different and people see the world through different lenses. Three beige walls and one green one might not be the biggest problem in this world, but patience and a Japanese interpreter can make things much better. And the last thing it taught me was that living in Japan was the gift that will keep on giving for the rest of my life. It was never dull, and I never get tired of marveling at the unique and precious times we had there.