Escape from Japan…with Mr/s. Kitty

JE-EscapeFromJapanWithMrKitty

Escape from Japan…with Mr/s. Kitty

Between the boxes filled with clothes and Japanese souvenirs, a cat weaves through the narrow spaces, finally pressing their little claws into the cardboard. No matter how much the owner shoos their cat away, an ominous cloud floats above them. The owner and Mr/s. Kitty are leaving Japan.

The ominous cloud always follows people returning to their home countries with a (new) pet. While the know-how is available, all of the pieces don’t always apply to those going from Japan to the United States. I had to bring my cat, Ninja, from Okinawa to the United States in August 2015. Even as a JET Program participant, I had little help in booking a flight where the airlines allowed pets and going through the process of taking a cat on a plane.

Find out if your cat is allowed to be transported. If your cat is a certain breed, they may not be allowed for travel. Hairless breeds and cats with flat snouts are usually not approved. Check with the airline to see which breeds are allowed for travel. Also, cats under the age of 90 days old or over the weight of 32 kg (71 pounds) won’t be permitted to travel. Airlines that allow pets on flights since August 2015 are EVA Air, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways (ANA), and Singapore Airlines.

Find an airline that allows pets. The only way to do this is to call the airlines customer service line. Some airlines such as Cathy Pacific Airlines don’t allow pets, even in their cargo space. When looking for an airline that allows pets, always ask if the pet can be in the cabin (usually under the seat with you) or if they must be in the cargo (in an airline-approved kennel where checked bags go). It’s better to get on a flight where the pet is allowed in the cabin. If you’re a JET Program participant, tell your prefectural advisor well in advance that you will be bringing a cat with you so they can book your flight with a pet-permitted airline. Try to get a flight that only has only 1 stop so you don’t have to do a pet importation permit for each country.

Get an airline-approved kennel or carrier. Before booking a ticket for your pet, you must have the kennel or carrier’s weight, dimensions, and brand. Sherpa, Petmate, and Bergan make airline-approved carriers. I used a PetMate VariKennel, which are sold at Cainz, Meikuman, and any big pet store in Japan.

Get your cat’s vaccination and microchip. At least 30 days before the flight, make sure your cat has all their shots and vaccinations updated and in English. If they haven’t been microchipped, get that as well. It’s required for all pets entering the United States. If your cat has a vaccinations record that has not expired, this is efficient for travel.

Book your cat’s ticket. You can only do this once you get your airline tickets, or in the least, the reservation number. Call the airlines and tell them to add a pet ticket. The airline agent will ask you for your cat’s name, breed, weight, length, and age along with your carrier’s weight, dimensions (sizes), and brand. For JET Program participants, you will pay at the ticketing counter on the day of travel.

Schedule a checkup with your veterinarian at least 7 days before travel. You must get a Health Certificate with a Letter of Acclimation saying that your cat is healthy enough to fly. It’s usually good for only 10 days.

Submit application for Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law. You must do this at least 7 days before travel. On the day of travel, you will bring your cat to the Quarantine Office with your travel permit, your flight receipt or boarding pass, and vaccination records. Once all the paperwork is finished, your cat will be examined by the on-location veterinarian. From there, you will get an Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law that will be used for check-in points throughout the flight.

Schedule an appointment with the Quarantine Office in the airport. You must do this ahead of time. On the day of travel, you will bring your cat to the Quarantine Office with your travel permit, your flight receipt or boarding pass, and vaccination records. Once all the paperwork is finished, your cat will be examined by the on-location veterinarian. From there, you will get an Export Quarantine Certificate for Animals Under the Rabies Prevention Law that will be used for check-in points throughout the flight.

If you are stopping in other countries, check into their pet importation procedures as well as specifics for vaccinations. For Taiwan, if the cat is coming from Japan, you must file an application for a Permit for Animal Transit by submitting an Application Form for Transition with your cat’s vaccination certificates. This can be done by snail mail, email, or fax. I emailed the Hsinchu Branch Office (Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, Phone: 886-3-3982431) at daq@mail.baphiq.gov.tw and received an application form for the permit and the procedure for traveling with my cat. It takes about 2 or 3 weeks to complete this part, depending on when the branch office responds to your initial email.

Get an engraved tag with you and your cat’s information. It’s for identification as is the microchip. Make sure to include your cat’s name, your name, your phone number, and your future address, even if you’re unsure of your more permanent location back home.

On the day of travel, make sure your cat is well hydrated before taking them to the airport. Take your cat to the Quarantine Office with your paperwork. The Quarantine Office will require you to take your cat out of the carrier for a brief check. After you receive your travel permit and your flight is within the hour, you can go straight to the ticketing counter. In the preliminary screenings before you get to the ticketing counter, you must hold your cat while the airline staff X-rays the carrier. Once your pet is back in the carrier and you get to the ticketing counter, the airline staff will help you finish any ticketing procedures for your pet, and you’ll be asked to sign a liability release form. During travel, you are not allowed to bring your cat’s food with you unless you arrange it with the airline staff at the ticketing counter.

If you are stopping in Taiwan, a staff member will show you a photograph of your pet or bring your pet to you before boarding the next flight. They may ask for your pet importation forms, especially if you have any special instructions (i.e. giving food, water) for the staff.

Landing in Los Angeles Airport (LAX) is probably the easiest part of bringing a cat to the U.S. After landing and going through immigration, there is a section in the baggage claim area for animals. When I went to pick up my cat, there was no desk or staff to claim my pet. She was in a cart with the ropes from cargo around her carrier sitting by herself in the middle of the floor. The pet importation paperwork, which I tucked under my arm as I went through the last screenings, wasn’t checked at all. Anyone could take my cat from LAX. I don’t know if anything has changed since August 2015, but that’s something to be wary about. If you do not see your cat in their carrier somewhere in the animal claim area, report it immediately.

Resources for importing a cat to the United States:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Information on Cat Importation –  http://www.cdc.gov/importation/bringing-an-animal-into-the-united-states/cats.html

Naha Airport Quarantine (near International Departures terminal)

Operating hours: 9:30AM-11:30AM, 1-5PM Every Day

Website: http://www.maff.go.jp/aqs/english/animal/ex_index.html (English)

Phone: +81 98-857-4468 (Ask for an English speaker)

Email: naha@aqs.maff.go.jp

7 Free to Cheap Things to Do for Job Hunting after Japan

JE-7freetocheap

7 Free to Cheap Things to Do for Job Hunting after Japan

The job hunt has changed, and whether you’ve been in Japan for 1 year or 5 years, returnees must learn how the hunt works again.

#1: Clean up your online presence.

If you are tagged in drunken or half-naked pictures on Facebook or in an inappropriate debate within 140 characters on Twitter, odds are you don’t care about your image. Why would any company think you about their company’s image?

No Cost. It only costs your time. Do a Google search with your name in quotations (ex. “John Smith”) to specifically find you. Remove unflattering photos and messages in social media. Scrub your Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, and any other social media accounts until they show a shining version of you.

#2: Create your personal brand.

Use free online articles and any online resources to make anything with your name has a consistent, personalized feel. Make sure your personal logo, LinkedIn, social media, website, blog, business cards, resumes, cover letters, and even your email signatures give the same image and feeling as who you are.

Cost? If you have a friend who is an artist or graphic designer and they’re willing to make a logo in trade for portfolio credit, this can be free. If you don’t, no worries. There are plenty of free logo designers and generators online such as Logomakr (see example below).

freelogo2 - Copy

Here’s a free logo I made in 5 minutes on Logomakr.

#3: Get 5 to 10 references.

Gone are the days to write “References upon request”. Online applications demand them, and you’ve gotta deliver. List all the jobs you’ve had, pick references who will give you positive recommendations, and contact them. Send them a copy of your resume so that when employers ask about you, your references will have a better idea of the you now.

Cost? It’s free, if your references are happy to do it, but always remember to send them a thank-you note ($1 for 10 from the Dollar Tree) or a $5 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks. This may be your ticket to a job, and if not, you’re still showing your appreciation.

#4: Quantify your experiences in simple language.

When reading your resume, a hiring manager doesn’t want to read, “Completed secretarial duties.” They want to see how you among hundreds of applications can contribute to the company. How did you make a difference at your last work places and by how much?

If you’re coming out of the JET Program, you can quantify your experience with how many students you taught. “I taught English to over 300 elementary school students.” If you can’t quantify your experience, qualify it. I went with, “changed English education culture at 2 high schools”. The best balance for getting a job is to quantify your past work and add value to them with what you did. As before, I used, “changed English education culture at 2 high schools by planning, marketing, and creating English-related events; consistently introducing effective and creative activities; reviving the English Club and recruiting students for the club; and building relationships with American bases for day exchanges and competitions”.

No Cost. Just take your time, sit down with a list of your work experiences, and write how you made a difference in those jobs.

#5: Go pro.

Get a professional to critique your resume. TopResume and Prepared to Win are companies that specialize in maximizing job hunters’ one-page resumes and land jobs.

Cost? TopResume has a free resume evaluation, though their other services may have fees. Another resource for resume design is simply by Google searching your industry resume. For example, if you are looking for a job in technology, use “engineer resume”. You’ll get to see interesting and unique resume designs that can help make your resume get to the top of the pile. Always remember that your experience has the spotlight, not just the look of your resume.

#6: Don’t rely on the digital world.

It’s very easy to send a resume via email or an online application system such as Indeed or Monster. You don’t have to be like everyone else. If you really want the job, research the company and get the company’s mailing address and the hiring manager’s information. After 2 weeks of applying or the application period has ended, follow up on your application status. Send handwritten thank-you cards to the hiring managers or call them. Go to job fairs and network the traditional way with business cards and printed resumes. Add flair to your printed materials by using high-quality or premium paper. Talk to returnees who were in your program while in Japan and ask them about their current occupation. Maybe they can help you find a job, even if it’s temporary.

Cost? Get 10 handwritten thank-you cards from the Dollar Tree and the 99 Cents Store for $1 plus tax. The price for business cards varies at different stores. (I use OvernightPrints.com instead of Vista Print because they use recycled paper and really thick cardstock with fast shipping.)  Buy premium resume paper at Wal-Mart for around $6. Most job fairs are free, but if you need a place to start, check out EventBrite or your local classifieds section.

#7: Down-play select experiences.

The one thing that came as a surprise to me in returning to the States was that a lot of hiring managers didn’t care about how many things I did in Japan. In cases where my husband and I were applying for work in retail, customer service, technological and clerical industries, we were treated with disdain after learning we had graduated from college and lived abroad. For me personally, I didn’t know if it was because of America’s anti-education culture and ethnocentrism. It really came down to the manager’s ego. Being younger, more educated, more global, and multilingual made some managers uncomfortable, and in some cases, hostile towards us during interviews.

Down-playing certain experiences for specific jobs, especially in entry level areas, could be the difference in earning a paycheck or leaving an interview disheartened. Be prepared to make a case for yourself when you’re applying for a job outside whatever you did in Japan. If you’re going for a sales or tech job, don’t go into detail about your time as a teacher.

Also, don’t take it off your resume just because it doesn’t seem to apply as it will look like a huge gap in your job history. Align the skills from your Japan job with the skills from the jobs you’re applying for and put those on your resume. Instead of using, “I taught English to 2 senior high schools,” you could use, “I learned to use PCs and trained other employees with various software in English and Japanese” or “I used Microsoft Office in Japanese and English to create multilingual documents in a fast-paced environment.” They show that you have adaptability and technical skills.

#Jade: How I Found a Job after Japan in 5 months

Hunger. That’s what fueled me through my 2-month temp job at the Consulate General of Japan in LA despite my 5 hour daily commute. That’s what got me to apply for 2 different positions in the community college down the street. That’s what got me a job within 5 months. It wasn’t my stomach growling–“Hey, you don’t have enough money to get through the month!” It was the hunger to set up my new life in the U.S. It’s not to say that I didn’t feel discouraged or upset at being unemployed without unemployment benefits. I had to re-think my approach and remember:

“Every ‘no’ is one step closer to a ‘yes’.”

From the stories of JET alumni and former expats, I’ve learned that the job industry hasn’t shrunk since I was a college student. The job industry had moved to online applications and keyword software to filter applicants. I couldn’t just be a secretary anymore. I had to be a tech-savvy administrative professional with the skills and go-get-’em attitude of 2 or 3 people.

Aside from the intrinsic qualities, adaptability was key. I had to learn from books, read articles, subscribe to job alerts and newsletters, and upgrade my skills with diplomas and tests to land a wonderful job in 5 months. If you’re not landing jobs and you’re doing the same thing each time, change your approach.

#Your Turn!

What have you done (differently) to get a new job since leaving Japan?

What tips would you give to job hunters post-Japan?

Jade’s Escape from 2015: A Year of Un-Rewards

Every year, I look up my yearly horoscope to see how well the concocters can predict my future. Not that I believe in it–I think they provide a good, unpredictable laugh–but in some cases, I really really want them to be right.

Here’s what my 2015 horoscope said:

For those born under the zodiac sign of Libra, 2015 will be a rewarding year. The 2015 Libra horoscope predicts that this is a year where it feels like anything is possible and that the life’s rewards are endless. Enjoy your good fortune, but remember luck can change in an instant, so don’t get ahead of yourself. –Sun Signs

 

This overall horoscope was generally…incorrect. 2015 has not been a rewarding year for me unless I count the fact that I’m alive and in decent health despite being a full-time vegetarian living in a fat-packed, sugar-loaded society.

2015 has given me good and bad luck as easily as flipping a coin. In losing 30 pounds this year, my knees have been injured and re-injured multiple times, leaving me skeptical of my legs stability. Though I’ve returned to the States after 5 years expecting reverse cultural shock, nothing prepared me for the reality of the dismal job hunts (3 interviews out of dozens of applications) and misunderstandings from changing languages. In a stroke of luck, I received all my uninsured boxes from being sea-shipped across the Pacific and my Japanese pension without a hitch. On the flip side, the house my husband and I saved up for won’t be available to a couple who doesn’t have residency or military affiliations for another year. My excitement in visiting the Philippines for the first time turned into disappointment as family members constantly poked at my weight and vegetarianism.

This year has been rough, and I’m not afraid to admit that. Between the move from Japan to the States and the readjustment to American life, I’ve had to look at myself and ask, “What do I want to do with my life?” So far, I’ve narrowed down the list to writing and marketing, but both require I go back to school and get papers that say, “Hey, she can do entry level jobs now in so-and-so industry.”

I want to stay positive, but no matter how hard I work, I don’t feel like I’m moving forward. I have to take 2 steps back just to see a future directly in front of me. Part of me wants to lie down and call it a day every day, but the fighter in me says, “Just power through it. You can do it.” I know I can do it. It’s a matter of when, and when feels out of my grasp. Will it be 2016 that’ll see me join a publisher or magazine? Will 2016 be the year I win something, anything, in regards to writing? Or will 2016 be rifled with disappointments and punishments for actually trying?

At least one thing’s already up for 2016–my yearly horoscope:

The Libra horoscope 2016 thus forecasts that this is a year which will be the base for the coming years. So analyze and think well before making important decisions in your life. —Sun Signs

Jade’s Escape from Japan: Returning to American Life

returning_to_american_life

Returning to American Life

Similar to an earlier post, Jade’s Escape from Japan, settling into American life has been a little rough, but there are slivers of silvers sparkling from their edges.

No Stomachaches, Just Stomach Gains. My body’s adjusted to the over-saturated American diet, even gaining 10 pounds in the first 2 weeks. Once I eliminated Del Taco’s bean burritos from my diet and signed up for a gym membership, I lost 5 pounds, putting me only 6 pounds heavier than when I first came back. Even with vegetarian and vegan options at stores and restaurants, I’m still struggling with maintaining my weight. On top of that, I get pressured by my husband and his family’s habits to ditch my diet. “You’re too skinny now,” my husband tells me, but these ideas won’t deter me from declining chicken dishes and sausage links. I worked really hard to get to where I am, and I don’t want all that effort to vanish just because I’m back in my home country. Sometimes I’m fighting a whole culture of fat, sickness, and laziness.

The silver lining: While living with meat-eaters who don’t care about their health or waistlines challenges my willpower, I know I’m improving my life not just now but in the long run. Plus, I’m now at my high school weight, which was my resolution this year.

The Multicultural “Gaijin-ism”. The word gaijin hasn’t disappeared from my brain whenever I see a non-Asian person, but the reaction of seeing different colored people has. My ears perk up at different Lyft drivers’ accents, and when I ask them where they’re from, I learn their stories, their motivations, their needs and wants in life. Whether it’s through broken Spanish or simple English, I’m excited to meet people from all around the world and learn something new.

The silver lining: I can study any language, and there will be people who I can speak with.

The Unemployed and Dependent Adult. Here’s the truth: finding a job after living in a foreign country is dismal, especially in California. Many companies and hiring managers don’t accept working abroad as anything but an experience abroad, leaving one big resume gap for returnees. On top of that, the job-hunting game has changed. If you were a capable player before, you’ll find yourself being benched at every tournament. It’s discouraging, especially when other former expats tell you that you’re not going to get a decent job for at least a year, so hunker down and be patient.

The silver lining: My work ethic and outlook are different, thanks to Japan. Before returning, I updated my resumes and CVs. I’ve maximized my online persona by linking my LinkedIn to my personal website that has my logo from my resume. Also thanks to Japan and my own interests, reading books such as Jay Conrad Levinson’s Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 and Richard N. Bolles’s The Job-Hunter’s Survival Guide have been indispensable for people in my position.

The Unhomely Home. Since I’m living with my in-laws, things are completely different–and sometimes, nonsensical–compared to what I’m used to. I just have to get used to it, right? In the meantime, I’m similar to the guy who never moves out of his mom’s basement.

The silver lining: I learned patience in Japan. Why not use it? Plus, I don’t have to pay for the basement.

No Fear = New Connections. I thought when I returned to California, I wouldn’t need to use Japanese. In the most random places–Kohl’s in San Diego, Kapsoul in LA, the Amtrak between Union Station and downtown San Diego–I’ve met Japanese people, and I’ve been happy to flex my Japanese tongue. I’m not afraid to jump between English and Japanese when I meet these people. They’re immigrants or second-generation Japanese people, nikkei, making lives for themselves in the States. Aside from meeting Japanese folks, I find I’m not afraid to speak to anyone and everyone. The man who wants my number, the bum looking for an extra dollar, the Cuban Lyft driver, I’m not scared to say what I want. Japan has taught me to appreciate the ability to be heard.

The silver lining: I don’t feel as Japan-sick as I did when I first landed in LAX.

Jade’s Escape from Japan: Desk Partners/Neighbors

deskpartners_header

Jade’s Escape from Japan: Desk Partners/Neighbors

Every day I sat at my somewhat-cluttered work desk, I sat next to the gentlest gentlemen I had ever met. He always marched to his desk gripping a black briefcase. When he reached the desk, he’d say cheerfully as if the first greeting in the morning would chase away those dreadful Monday blues, “Good morning!” If he were late, marching into the teacher’s room with his briefcase and huff on his breath, he’d still get out a cheerful, “Good morning!” before tossing his stuff onto his desk and jogging to the meeting room. It didn’t take long for us to become good friends. He was curious about everything and everyone in the same way children asked, “Where do babies come from?” I wanted to laugh and answer as honestly as possible.

The one thing I loved about sitting next to this teacher was the way he spoke. He had a soft voice, and whenever I taught him a new English word, he would weigh the word with his tongue, sounding each syllable out and rolling it around in his mouth. By the time he committed the word to memory, I’d sense his pride in the new vocabulary, and I’d find myself wanting to teach him more words. In exchange, he taught me Japanese, correcting my clumsy sentences and checking my worksheets. He was usually the first person to tell me what was going on, even before my coordinators.

What surprised me the most about him was his devotion to his family. Before returning to teaching, he was essentially a house husband, making meals for his daughter and wife, cleaning the home, and taking care of his child. “I went to a cooking school to make better lunches,” he told me one day. “But I had to learn the cooking words first.” After this admission, I respected him more. As gentle as he seemed, this man did things with resolve, something that many young people didn’t do nowadays.

Soon, I brought my homemade lunches and bagels and healthy sweets with me for him to try. He told me honestly what he liked the most about each item and what I could do to make them better. None of his words discouraged me, only made me smile even if the criticism wasn’t positive. One day, I brought him an oatmeal muffin, and he shyly admitted, “I’ve never had oatmeal. Is it good?” I think my eyebrows lifted to the ceiling because he laughed. “Is that strange?”

“OK, wait right here.” I went to the fridge, put an oatmeal muffin on a paper plate, and warmed it up in the microwave. I watched him eat it slowly, eating in the same way he learned new English words. He took a small bite, chewed it carefully, and this time, his eyebrows went up.

“Mmm, it’s good!” And he went on to finish the rest of the oatmeal muffin with gusto. What I realized about him was that he lacked any concept of ill intentions. Most people I met, they had some desire to be cutthroat, to be uncaring, to be superior to someone else, but not this man. He simply accepted everyone and everything, and if he needed something to happen, he made sure to make it happen in the simplest way possible. He was a man of zero drama.

And when it was one of my last times to sit next to him, he looked at me and asked, “Did you eat lunch?” I told I hadn’t, and he invited me to lunch. I was ecstatic. In the last two weeks of leaving Japan, I had forgotten when to eat, abandoning food for drives to different towns and post offices to mail boxes. I think he saw my body shrink and my energy diminish under the weight of work, and as a good older brother or cousin or father would do, help me regain at least one meal of normality.

So we went to eat Chinese food at a small but clean restaurant near the school where customers took off their shoes next to tatami mats and traditional floor tables. I learned that being away from school and the prying eyes and ears of the staff and students let me and my companion be ourselves. After eating the lunch special, we started telling each other stories. “When I was leaving America,” I told him over a cup of coffee, “some guys told me they liked me. I thought, ‘Why are you telling me now?’ And that’s how I got closer to my husband. He said, ‘If you weren’t going to Japan, I’d ask you to be my girlfriend.’ I was really happy, but nothing was going to stop me from going to Japan. It was my dream, you know?”

Watching his black eyes light up behind his glasses always made me want to say everything I thought. It was one of the reasons why, despite being the gentlest person in my lifetime, he was also the most dangerous. I wanted to say everything I felt at the moment my husband confessed to me, how happy yet unsure I felt about actually leaving the States, how uncertain my future felt without an anchor holding my old habits together. I kept that part out, let my tongue say the tip of my mind, and told him a funny story about a guy who wanted a date to be a date. He, in turn, told me a similar story, his spanning from mainland Okinawa to his time in Miyako, a popular outer islander with an Okinawan dialect completely different from Okinawan dialect.

When we went back to the office, the shells of ourselves folded over us, and we returned to being working neighbors. While I remembered everyone in my English department as people filled with personality, I felt that my neighbor and I fit together as desk partners in our somewhat-cluttered work area.

Jade’s Escape from Japan: The Ninth Box and Smells of Japan

jadesescapefromjapan-theninthbox

The Ninth Box and the Smells of Japan

When the ninth box from Japan arrived at my in-laws’ home, I knew that my lengthy adventures there were done. It was as if closure had filled them to remind me, “You’ve given up that life. Accept it.” How can I accept it? part of me challenges with a hint of stubbornness. Even now, I still feel displaced. My eyes look out at a lake from my past and sees it as mysterious, views the surrounding houses and cars as strangers, and finally, the dread of being on the outside fills my stomach. I open each box to forget that ache. Each box had books, comics, clothes, and knick knacks accumulated from 5 years, some pieces broken but fixable, and smells from Japan. I opened a Starbucks mug and sniffed its inside. With a quizzical look, I held it out to my brother in law. “This is what Japan smells like.” It had a woodsy odor, something akin to cut tree slabs that had been perched on someone’s porch for several years.

Everything in southern Okinawa emitted earthy scents. On a summer day, farmers would burn their rotted excess sugar cane, and the smell of smoke and smoldering fritters would fill the air, usually causing my husband’s nose to clog with allergies. My nose, which I soon found to be sensitive to smells, picked up the faint smells of smoke before I saw them. Between March and May, the clouds carried heavy rain into the region, and my nose picked up the vague smell of earth. For me, dirt filled my nose, and with am exhale, I knew to grab an umbrella on the way out the door. On hot summer days, the heat offered me a new scent–the smell of smoldering tar and a stifling, thick air that said it would not leave this small island until the chilled winter air blew in. All the plants bent and wilted underneath the heat’s reign, indicating that my chiffon clothing wouldn’t be enough to shield me from the penetrating summer day. When the wind changed and Okinawans dawned sweaters, long sleeves, and corduroys, the island smells brought me back to my San Diego home and my Norfolk upbringing and the York house where my grandparents lived—crisp air with the distant aroma of Chrstimas-time pine, warmed breaths challenging white clouds and freezing hands, apple cider and vanilla bean perfumed on knits and wools and blankets.

“What’re those boxes?” a friend’s little boys asked me, and I opened the box for them to look in. For them, they saw lots of dirty notebooks, pictures of Japanese kids, and messages scribbled in an indecipherable language. I showed them the things there, but I held my tongue on everything else. No matter how I tried to explain each memory and each smell to them, they wouldn’t get it either. They were mine.