Thursday, November 29, 2007

In with the new, Out with the old

I have a new laptop! I have a new laptop!
I still miss The Thing, my old 12-inch aluminum PowerBook G4. It was dented and slow and the battery was kinda shot, but I liked the industrial look. My new MacBook is…white. Need I say more? I had to ponder long and hard over the color choice – white or black. For no apparent good reason, the black one costs more. For a teeny bit of extra memory. And I read that handprints will quickly mar the surface. But this white laptop looks too…I don’t know…bridal?? I need to do a makeover soon. Maybe with some hot pink decals…

We also have a new printer. Well, not really new, but new for us. Our old one died suddenly just before we left for Costa Rica. We took it to Goodwill yesterday so they can recycle the parts or do whatever they do with printer carcasses. Because gas is so expensive now in California, we walk or ride our bikes everywhere and so, we were lugging this printer, along with a couple of packages I was mailing, down the street when we spot a shopping cart. It happened to be Goodwill’s cart!

“Well, isn’t this great timing! We can put our stuff in here and wheel it to Goodwill and get their cart back!”

I pushed the cart up Santa Monica Boulevard, about dozen blocks, to the Goodwill Donation Center. It made quite a racket but I loved it. I could picture myself in my old age, carrying my whole life in a shopping cart. And I discovered something interesting: when you are pushing a shopping cart down a busy street, people try not to make eye contact. Maybe they were afraid I’d ask them for something. Maybe I should have.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thank You

It’s thanksgiving weekend at Dog Family Central (and around the US!) It’s been quite a year of losses for us, but the less you have, the more thankful you are for what you do. I don’t know when it started, but I’ve noticed how I always put a positive spin on things.

When I was graduating from university, I went through a very difficult period in which I was swept up in the whole employment process with other graduates. There was a pretty rigid system back then where large corporations had quotas for new grads and they had mass exams during the winter before the spring graduation. I was graduating in June instead of March because I entered in September with other kids who were educated outside the Japanese education system, but the Shushoku Fever swept me up, too, and I took a few exams for Major Japanese Ad Agencies. The good thing about being a Philosophy Major is that there is no business such a background would lead to, so the field was wide open. Unfortunately, my Japanese was so bad, I could hardly understand the questions on the exam, much less get them right and I never went to the next stage – The Interview – with any of the prospective employers. But I realized, much later, that this was one of the best things to happen to me in my life! Can you imagine what hell my life might have been if I HAD gotten accepted by any of those companies?

Thank you, Major Japanese Ad Agencies, for rejecting me so early on.
Thank you, R, for dumping me for that divorcee.
Thank you, P, for having made things so horrible I had to get out and move on.
Thank you, K, for being so hard on me when I was young.
Thank you, BD, for not being a normal guy. You know how I love challenges.

Friday, November 16, 2007

She’s heeeere…

Did you miss me? I’ve been away from cyberspace for quite some time. Go through the archives to find out why!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Brief Update

Big Dog’s old computer’s been back for a few days. Before, he’d ride to the library and work on theirs. I’d stay home because the library computer was not Japanese compatible. Now that his old PowerBook’s here, he’s on it all day long. I wish he’d still ride to the library because he CAN use theirs and I’d have a Japanese-capable laptop to try to recover lost data with.

It’s causing a few tensions and I am more irritable. It was better when there was no computer – having a tool here that I need but can’t use is irritating to no end. Not to mention the mind-numbingly boring and mundane task of listing our losses, sourcing the items, checking and double checking costs. What a total drag. I must be in the final Stage of Loss: Resignation. But it also feels like I’m going back to the very beginning: numbness.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Getting your life back…slowly

I’m learning how addicted we are to computers. My whole LIFE was in my PowerBook. And so many unfinished projects. A word of advice to all – backup! Backup! Backup!

Fortunately, I had spent days backing up all the photos from the past 12 months before we left. Unfortunately, that sucked up all my time and I never got around to backing up data like I do before going somewhere.

Spent the last several days changing accounts, passwords, getting new credit cards, calling insurance companies, going to the library to use their computer, to a friend’s to use hers. Although Big Dog swore he’d never be in the US after Daylight Savings was over, we rolled back our clocks on Sunday and here we are…still. I have a feeling that at this point, we’ll stay put through the holidays. Maybe head to the ranch and get our pruning done unseasonably early.

The plane got in too late for us to take a city bus back to Santa Monica. It would have been great if we could because we were carrying NOTHING. But it was nearly midnight and we had to take a cab.

“It would just be our luck to run to get a shuttle to the bus terminal and then find out the busses had stopped. We’d be out there in a deserted lot waiting for a cab to drive by – we can’t use my cell anymore.” I imagined being out there and being mugged for the precious little we still had left. And I mean PRECIOUS. BD’s new passport, driver’s license, credit cards, my passport, credit card and condo keys. Oh yeah. That’d be great.

We paid for the cab with our credit card.

“This isn’t a reflection on your performance, but I can’t leave you a tip,” BD explained our situation to our driver. The truth was, OF COURSE we could afford to leave him a tip but BD’s gone into Super Recovery Mode. Meaning he’s highly unlikely to do any spending unless it’s absolutely necessary until we can somehow recover our losses – through insurance or income.

THIS is what voluntary unemployment means. You have a pretty rock solid financial plan and if the unforeseen should happen, you create new strategies to deal with it. It means drinking shitty beer (but in our case, not giving it up) until we find some blowout sale on decent beer.

We look through Want Ads to see if there’s anything we can do right now. We’re never in one place long enough to get real jobs, but, hey, I wouldn’t mind a week long something.

In the meantime, though, I am enjoying my computerless life. I read more. I’m enjoying writing in long hand. The complaint I wrote to AA on Saturday made my hand cramp, but my finger muscles are getting stronger and more flexible day by day. Plus I think it stimulates a different part of my brain.

I lost my doodle-a-day midstream but maybe this only means I am ready for a “real” project.

BD and I toss around ideas for a screenplay over dinner. It makes us laugh. And I realize that until they take our lives, or bash in our skulls, what is most valuable can never be stolen: imagination, creativity, curiosity, resourcefulness and most of all, our sense of humor.

Plus, no matter how bad something may seem, if it becomes a learning experience… ours was an expensive lesson, but let me share some of the things we learned.

1) If you go to CR, avoid the beaches. At least those where gringos go. Head for the hills – they are cool, lush & beautiful.
2) Assume you will get everything stolen. Pack accordingly. We usually do but got tricked into complacency by the sheer number of bozo tourists flocking to CR – when that should have been a Big Alert Sign.
3) It’s not hard to live with nothing – so it’s a good way to travel. If I didn’t need Japanese text capability, I’d leave my computer at home. In a few years, maybe we’ll wean ourselves off of all work. THEN we’ll travel in style! Which, in our case, means a toothbrush, toothpaste, some pens, a notepad and a few extra clothes.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Getting Out (of CR)

Part One: Getting Part of Your Life Back in 3 hours

We had found a little guesthouse on the outskirts of San Jose the day before. Big Dog had only $20 and some colones so I had to break out my emergency cash to pay for our room, but the guesthouse was clean and comfortable and had a computer in the communal living room/lobby. (Of course, public computers are of no use to me when I need to check my mail since they normally don’t have Japanese language capability.)

It was kind of cool having nothing. It took no time to get ready in the morning. No hair brush, no makeup, no clothes selection. I was beginning to enjoy this part.

It’s true. We get what we really want. Maybe deep down, I wanted to rid myself of everything.

The streets of San Jose are impossible with bizarre roundabouts, a lack of traffic lights (and signs,) belching diesel smoke and wacky drivers. Our little Yaris was spazzing through the congestion. Because Big Dog didn’t trust the Natural Born Navigator, we made a few costly wrong turns but eventually got to the US Embassy.

There was a giant line of people and it wasn’t until we hung out for a while that I saw a sign telling us that for US Citizen Services, proceed to the door. There were two or three other people who were also getting replacement passports, including one man-boy who told us that he got everything stolen in the first five minutes at Jaco Beach. I hope it wasn’t his first trip out of the US!

By 11am, Big D had a new passport.
“Ugh. What a terrible photo,” he grimaced.
“You look like a criminal!” I laughed. It actually wasn’t that bad, considering what we were going through.
“You could have touched up my hair or something.”
“At least it’s only a temporary passport.”

Part Two: Traveling Real Light

At the rentacar office, we noticed a pamphlet advertising a new Westin Hotel at Jaco Beach. The infamous den of thieves!

So far, aside from the Very Unpleasant ordeal of having everything stolen and being forced to go back to the US, our Costa Rican experience had been pretty positive. The people were very sweet and the countryside, especially the lush hills and valleys, very beautiful. But we were about to be clobbered over the head with one last Bad Moment (actually two) on our way out.

The first one was the US$26 “departure tax.” It really made us feel ripped off after all that had happened.

The second and the one that left a most unpleasant aftertaste came from a pretty, but pretty horrible, American Airlines check-in women. First, we had to bulldoze our way through two security personnel who wanted to see the receipt from the payment of our departure tax before we can even get to the counter. Then, once we were there, the woman, instead of asking how she could help, brusquely asked for our receipts and passports. Was it the terrible way we looked that made her so snooty? If so, that was unforgivable.

“We don’t know if we’re going anywhere. Can you just look up our info?”
“Calm down.”
“I am calm.”
“Calm down.”
“Listen. I AM calm.”
“Calm down.”
She’s the kind that has to have the last word. I hate those kinds of people.
“If you don’t calm down, I’m going to have to send you to the back of the line,” she sneers.
By now, there was no line.
“Can you just look in the computer and see if we are booked on any flights today? Here’s our locator number,” BD pushed a slip of paper towards her.
“It’s the wrong number!” she said angrily.
“Hey, it’s the one YOU guys gave me!”
“Calm DOWN!”

Turned out, we were on a flight, so we left The Princess to be robbed of our last 52 dollars. We were able to pay only by adding all our Colones and dollars together. Now we had no bus money. We were traveling REAL light.

Back at the counter, I was glad to see Princess gone. But the woman who checked us in, told us we had to pay a penalty because of the change in reservations.
“That’s what I tried to straighten out with Princess over there. I should have gotten the supervisor.”
“I AM the supervisor,” said a slightly older woman who came to the counter.
“Calm down. All I’m trying to tell you is that you have to go to our office with the police report…”
“I tried to do all of that before we paid our departure tax and had our boarding tickets printed out!”
“Calm DOWN.” It started all over again.

We are starting to really get angry now. We probably had a lot of supressed anger in us (isn’t that another Stage in Loss?) and those airline personnel merely pulled the trigger. And what a trigger! While the back and forth was going on between BD and the Supervisor, I catch Princess actually smirking to her supervisor! I was so disgusted. By her and by the supervisor. We had been a little reluctant to leave – we spent so much time getting here – but now we were happy to be leaving. Any doubts we had disappeared. Thank you, Princess.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


They talk about the Seven Stages of Loss. At least I think it’s seven. The different emotions you go through when you lose someone. I think there are similar emotions when you are wiped out as completely. Sure, this is nothing compared to losing everything to a hurricane or a fire, and, fortunately, I still had my purse with passport, cell phone (no charger!) digi-cam (no cables!) and Big Dog still had his wallet with our cash for the day. But we were pretty thoroughly robbed, as far as robberies go.

First comes shock.
I didn’t know HOW to feel. I was neither very angry nor very sad. Just numb. I kept repeating platitudes like “Well, at least we’re okay.”

Then, disbelief.
“Can I look in the trunk again?” I asked as we got back to the car. We had one of the security guards call the condo manager’s office and had her get the phone numbers for the US Embassy and the airline. Her office was in Playas del Coco, the next town over, so we had to drive there.
“Be my guest,” shrugged BD.
It’s the same. The luggage wasn’t going to suddenly reappeared, magically, no matter how much I looked or how often I opened and closed the trunk. If we’d had the time, though, I could have been there for hours, opening and closing the trunk again and again until it sent BD off the edge.

Neither of us could believe what’s happened, or that it happened to US. We've been traveling way too long, in too many countries – many much poorer, weirder, less stable than CR. Somehow, I could imagine damaging my computer easier than having it stolen.

“In 40 years of travel, I have never experienced anything like this” will be BD’s refrain for the next many days. I think of how, when I was an infant, my mother and I traveled by ship from Kobe, Japan to Los Angeles, so I must have been on the road (or sea, or air) for nearly 50 years. And I never had anything stolen. OK, in Tokyo, my motorbike got stolen twice (the second time, the police recovered it) but other than that, I haven’t even gotten much LOST. I can only think of one item that went missing – a beautiful white lace scarf designed like a gorgeous spiderweb. I am still waiting for it to reappear from a coat pocket.

“I can’t believe it.”
“Where could it have happened?”
In my mind’s eye, I could only see the parking lot at the Jumbo Super. It was busy and confusing with cars and people and all that rain. Meanwhile, Big Dog was seeing me with my back to the car at the restaurant when he went to the men’s room. Who knows.

But, that’s the next step. Guilt.
We kept looking for what we did wrong – how we let this happen. It’s easy to feel responsible, somehow.
“In a way, we are. I mean, we in general. We come here and screw up their economy. We pay ridiculous sums for everything. No wonder people feel justified in ‘redistributing’ wealth.” BD didn’t quite share my views.
“Thieves aren’t the poor people and poor people aren’t thieves. Thieves are just lazy fucks without any morals.”
Although we disagreed, I was glad we didn’t get into blaming each other .

We found our way to Playas del Coco and the office that managed the condos. It’s a tiny town crammed with tiny shops in cinderblock buildings. The bumpy road was crowded with quite a few cars and people. Maybe it might have looked charming with a lot more sunshine – the ocean would be blue, the sand whiter, perhaps – but under the gloom (both literal and figurative) the tiny beach looked rather drab. Military green, murky water and a muddy looking beach. As soon as we got out of the car, someone was asking if we needed a taxi. A lot of hustlers, trying to get some gringo cash. Taxi? Hotel? Gimme money? Would they try to shove me out if I started asking wealthy looking tourists for money, too?

The manager, Gina, was gushing with apologies. She’d already gotten the US Embassy and airline numbers, so we got on the phone right away. Then, it was a trip to the local police to file a report. The police were typically casual about the whole thing, but this IS a funky little beach town, so I wasn’t really expecting NYPD Blue or anything.

Gina was still in disbelieve and wanted to believe this happened in or near San Jose, the capital.
“I got my purse stolen the first week back in San Jose after several years in the US. That’s why I moved here. It’s so much more tranquilo…”

It was completely dark when we got back to the condo. At least we had a place to sleep for the night!
“To having our lives!” I opened two beers and toasted BD. I was grateful it was at least physically painless. We had no moments of fear, either. It could have been worse. Much worse. I still had my passport and we had each other. Intact.

But I still spent most of the night, cataloguing our losses, a downpour providing the background music. This must be the next stage. Regret.

I thought of all the things I could have left behind. All the things we could have done to have prevented this from happening. I really regretted not having backed up my data, and most bummed out by the loss of my “tools” – the laptop, the charger to my phone and various other cables, the “studio-in-a-box” that’s also been around the world with me, all of my special pens and art supplies – plus what’s unrecoverable – the data, all the little drawings in my sketchpads…


We got up early after a mostly sleepless night. I had laundered our clothes the night before, so even though we were in the same clothes, at least they weren’t going to be smelly. At least not this day. My purse was bulging with newly purchased toothbrushes, my hair ‘s a fright wig, I had no eyebrows and what little we had (bananas, cookies, a bag of coffee and sandwiches for lunch) floated around in a plastic bag. I looked like hell. Big Dog looked pretty much the same, except for the added facial hair and his shorts and flipflops wouldn’t look at all out of place in LA. Thank god we weren’t heading back to Tokyo!

Our first stop was the OIJ, Costa Rica’s version of the FBI, in Liberia. Since the US Embassy is only open from 8am til 11am, we’d have to overnight in SJO and then hit the embassy the next day.

At the OIJ, a nice matronly woman, who spoke surprisingly good English, took our report again. Other officers took down the car license number but didn’t dust for prints the way Japanese police love to do.

“Jumbo Super? Oh, this happens all the time there,” they told us, all too jovially. “The security, they see but don’t do anything.”
“What about them? They know this is happening and they don’t do anything?” I whispered to Big Dog when they weren’t around.
When they came back, BD exclaimed, “I’ve been all through Central and South America and I’ve never been robbed! This is worse than Colombia!”
“There are many people here from Colombia,” The Matron explained.
Well, send them back!

In the car, driving back to San Jose, BD and I imagined how it could get a whole lot worse.
“Once tourists start getting held up in the national parks, they’ll stop coming. Then land prices will plummet. If I were D (our friend) I’d sell that condo and the other lot he has right now while the selling’s good.”
“As long as people have that ‘oh well’ kind of attitude, it WILL get a whole lot worse. I can see how tons of criminals from other countries with less tourist traffic flocking to these shores. Maybe it’s already happening.”

The road back was just as truck-heavy as the road up. Tons of black exhaust spewing vehicles. We couldn’t stand to be behind them, so BD would overtake them every chance we got…until we got stopped by the police.

BD fished out his California driver’s license.
“No hay! It was stolen!”
“Todo! No hay ropas. No hay makeup. No hay dinero! No hay nothing!” I interjected as BD showed the officer our copy of the police reports.
“Be careful,” he warned and we drove away.
“Hey, we can use this one in the future!” BD smiled.