29 March, 2008

thevisitors

"are you dead?" was a question fairly recently posed me on these very pages, by our friends Katie and Billy. apparently it has been a while, because soon after that query was posted, another friend, Jenn left these remarks: "I second Billy and Katie, are you dead? It's been almost 5 months since you posted last. WHAT IS GOING ON?"

maybe not quite five months, but it's a bit difficult to answer since there has been quite a lot going on, but i'll give it my best shot over the next few posts. the first thing i want to cover was a pretty big deal for us, and i've been meaning to write about it ever since. now seems like a particularly good time to get to it and make my return to blogging. just after we went to the salt flats, we got the great news that we would be able to share Thanksgiving with our good friends from Japan, the Kusudas. Yuuto was my student in Japan, and a very precocious one at that: at six years old he reads and writes English better than many native speakers of the same age. through meeting them at various parent teacher conferences, i could tell that Yuuto's parents were responsible for developing and augmenting his natural gifts in the language arena; not only did they take a very keen interest an helping him progress, but they both speak very good English themselves. we had a great time getting to know them better than those conferences had allowed when they came to visit.



the Kusudas arrive at the Salt Lake airport on Thanksgiving: from left to right are Natsumi, Yuuto's cousin, Yumiko and Shigeaki, his parents, and in front the man himself, looking very amused because Mr Ball "spelled" Yokoso ("welcome" in Japanese) wrong on the sign. below, the same group basks in the fluorescent light of Mecca... er, Wal-Mart.



Yuuto's mother, Yumiko, his father, Shigeaki, and one of his cousins, Natsumi, all arrived with the big star himself in the evening of Thanksgiving day, having flown in from Los Angeles. Yuuto thought it was hilarious that i had left out a character from the Japanese word for "welcome" on the sign we made for their arrival, and after all the English spelling tests i had given him, was probably justified in not letting it drop all evening. we took them to a family gathering at my grandpa's house, where Yuuto and Natsumi played with the other kids and showed them how to do origami, while Shige and Yumiko very patiently answered lots of questions from curious relatives and doled out hordes of gifts to the hosts. they brought Jill and i some calligraphy scrolls and another amazing Kokeshi doll for the collection Jill started while we were still in Nagoya.

we managed to pack a lot into a fairly brief visit, and funnily enough the number one destination, first on our list the following morning, was a trip to Wal-Mart. apparently news of its fame and possibly its vastness has crossed the Pacific ocean, because Yumiko had specifically requested to go there, for souvenirs. unfortunately, Salt Lake City Wal-Marts don't tend to stock a lot of souvenir-type items, but there is a "Supercenter" not far from us, and we did at least get to make the trip a decent Kodak moment.



scenes of the city, clockwise from top left: Yuuto and Natsumi with the official Jospeh Smith Memorial Building Nutcracker; Natsumi and Shige help Yuuto along in his first ever ice skating outing; the chilly group in front of the Salt Lake LDS Temple, probably the defining landmark of the state of Utah; and then with the only slightly lesser-known R2-D2 mailbox. below, a little taste of our man Yu-chan as he busts out his favorite phrase for the camera:

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the rest of that Friday was spent touring the bitterly cold downtown of Salt Lake City, including a very thorough visit to Temple Square, our town's best claim to fame. later on we watched Yuuto get into his first ever trip to the ice rink, this one outdoors on Gallivan Plaza. he made a really good go of it, but was often just content to hold a hand on either side and get dragged around on more or less locked legs. by the time the adults were getting wiped out from that he was starting to skate for several feet by himself, but then we had to go so we could indulge Natsumi's sporting pleasure. She is on a basketball team in Japan and Shige had been wanting to see some professional sports, so naturally we took them to the Jazz game. despite the altitude of our seats, it actually turned out to be a really enjoyable game, beginning with the Jazz trailing the New Orleans Hornets for most of the first half. just before halftime the Jazz came back in a big way to take the lead by just a point as the buzzer went. with all the excitement in the air, everyone in our party started gathering their coats before we realized there was still another half to go. this one wasn't quite as entertaining as the first had been, but the Jazz held on and extended their lead to comfortable margins by the time it really was all over.



the view from the top: is actually a lot better than the camera makes out, and at least you can see all the action. below, a little clandestine footage of Yuuto's reaction to the Jazz scoring:

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the best part of the game may have been the reactions it got from our guests. we weren't sure how much of it Yuuto would understand, but he caught on very quickly and was soon cheering for the Jazz... as long as he thought nobody knew. Jill had to use her spy skills and handy camera to get some evidence of what would happen when the Jazz scored, at least when Yuuto didn't think we were watching him.

the next day was a pretty long one, but not as long as it could have been. we're used to large distances in the West, but sometimes it's so big out here it's almost unfathomable. the Kusudas had really wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, understandable given that it's a relatively close Wonder of the World. unfortunately, it's still more than a ten hour drive each way, so given our time constraints we all agreed to head for the famous Utah site of Arches National Park instead, far more reasonable at just four hours away. funnily enough, it was also my first time there.



Natsumi, Yuuto, Yumiko and Shige stretch their legs at Arches after many long hours in the car (during most of which Yuuto was saying things like "there's a wocket in my pocket, there's a lox in my box" or singing the first two lines of a Spice Girls song "Stop right now/Thank you very much/I need somebody/With a human touch"). below, scenes of the red rock park, clockwise from top left: Shige, Yumiko and Natsumi in front of Balanced Rock; Jill looking radiant in front of Turret Arch; Yuuto and i basking in that radiance underneath North Window Arch; and another example of Jill's stunning photography at Turret Arch.



we spent several hours in the park and could have spent more if the drive home hadn't been ahead of us. nevertheless, we did make it reasonably close to the most famous arch of them all: Delicate Arch. made so recently by being the focal point of Utah's centennial license plate design, we had to see it and try to get some photos, despite still being quite far from it. below, Jill and i were trying to add to our collection of portraits taken at iconic sites, when Yuuto jumped in front of the camera with the precision timing of a master comedian. we were all laughing for ages and the picture below is still one of my favorites. Yuuto was actually pretty comical throughout. as we were coming down the trail from the vantage point of Delicate Arch, a runner came jogging past us and Yuuto just yelled out "Where you going man?" really loudly. the other folks on the trail were busting up as i was filling with pride at having helped with the slang.



Yuuto livens up the scene with some split-second hi-jinks. below, a nice portrait of the whole group in front of the Christus statue at the visitor's center on Temple Square.



Jill and i were fortunate to make a lot of great friends in Japan and we are so glad the Kusudas came all the way to Utah to visit us. we had a great time and we're looking forward to the next meeting. until then, we'll miss you!