IMR: 1998: January: 01 -- Thursday, 7:38 p.m.
Our Apartment, Waikiki, Hawai`i
Jen only worked half a day today, after which we went to my dad's for his traditional New Year's open house dinner.

Todd had already come and gone, but Eathan -- who has spent nearly all of his time back in Honolulu out with friends -- actually stayed home and relaxed with the family. Several other relatives and friends were there, spending the afternoon nibbling on tako, pineapple ham and tempura and watching football.

Gayle and uncle Leslie asked about Katherine's middle names, Masami and Kilinahe. The latter was fairly easy to explain, but the former -- still being crafted by William -- led to some discussion.

[ Kanji ]Uncle Leslie, the best versed among my father's siblings in higher Japanese, translated Masami as "superior female," or "righteous beauty." He could not recall whether "mi," the last character, could mean "snow," as we had thought William said it did.

We summoned grandma Ozawa, who quickly grabbed a pencil and launched into a twenty minute analysis of possible kanji characters and their meanings.

She illustrated how Masami could be either a masculine or feminine name, and pondered whether the first two syllables were one character or two. She was frustrated by "sa," saying she knew there were other characters but could only remember one.

For "masa," she too came up with "straight," "just" or "superior" and "beauty" for "mi."

Although uncle had to translate, it was nice to hear grandma teach, and we could tell she enjoyed it too. She often seems frustrated by the language barrier between her and her grandchildren.

Fortunately, she was quite satisfied to hear that it was William ("Ah! Matsuda!") who was crafting the Japanese characters. When he's perfected the kanji, we'll run it by grandma for approval. The two of them could probably get together and discuss the deeper meanings for hours.

Jen and I went out into the backyard to watch the sun set over Kahala. While the tradewinds and morning rains had cleared most of the New Year's smoke, I guess there was enough left in the air to make the sun a thick, rich, deep shade of gold. It was something else.

Finally, we loaded up plates of food and headed home for a quiet evening of Seinfeld and slightly flat Sprite. Gayle gave us one of those Japanese mochi-and-tangerine... er, New Year's things, which I set up on the television.

I'm not overjoyed, I'm not blissed out, I'm not excited or exhausted. Instead of a bang, the new year is coming in with a relieved, warm and pleasant sigh. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday night, I had a sudden, mad rush of Japanese-ness. After we spent the evening in Mililani, cooking Hawaiian-seasoned steaks for dinner, I went nuts when I got home.

I started cleaning. Sweeping, mopping, tossing out scraps of stuff that had accumulated in the corners of the apartment over the year.

I don't know what came over me; I just wanted everything out. I was so singleminded about it, at first I was annoyed when Jen tried to help. She kept at it, though, and eventually we had a full-scale decrudding in progress.

We threw out four garbage bags of stuff. Old magazines, empty boxes, stale and/or moldy food. I got a good four pounds of dirt and bus exhaust off the floors (and about $6 in loose change), and Jen scrubbed out the sink (it's white!), dusted the TV and stereo (they're black!) and wiped down the fridge (it's a ghastly yellow-green!).

We also threw out a ton of porn.

The cleaning continued the next day, New Year's Eve. Before we drove out to my dad's, I took my car to the car wash. As we drove into `Aina Haina, I was aching but satisfied that 1997 had been properly washed out of my life.

Over dinner, dad and Gayle engaged us in a serious talk about the future.

Gayle -- making clear that she knew she was in no place to give advice as a step-mother -- said she was very much in favor of us looking into further government assistance.

"You didn't choose to be where you are," she said, answering Jen's reluctance to turn to welfare.

"Well, that depends on how you look at it," I replied.

Dad, as usual, was most interested in my academic progress. He didn't like the way "another three semesters at least" sounded.

I repeated our hope to keep one parent at home with the child as long as possible, no matter how unrealistic it may be. Then, I basically outlined the options I'd been mulling over for the last few months.

  1. Jen returns to work when her six-week paid leave runs out, and we get child care.

    While this is what most people expect, I don't know how likely it is that we'd survive with essentially the same income (Jen's minimum wage, my 20 hours a week, and way too much financial support from my mom) and still afford a babysitter and other baby expenses. The only upside is that I'd stay in school. But we're both uncomfortable with turning our daughter over to a stranger before she can even hold her own head up.

  2. I leave school to work full time, Jen quits her job.

    This presumes I'd be able to get something better than minimum wage. Much better. A single-income family is the stuff of fantasy in Hawai`i. While I earn $8.20 an hour at both my part-time campus jobs, that wage is high only because it's part time (versatile and no benefits). I have lots of experience, but no college degree. The only indication of my prospects was almost getting hired by Kinko's as a $10/hour computer specialist.

  3. I get a web job in Austin, Texas, and we move there.

    This presumes I get the job, though Greg says I have a chance. The salary versus cost-of-living math looks decent, allowing for a frugal single-income household. The downside is that I'd have to leave school, and more importantly, we'd lose the security of nearby family. Even Jen's parents would be hours away. Also, as I've heard from hundreds of displaced kama`aina, "Once you leave Hawai`i, you can never come back."

  4. We move in with my mother.

    Pride wise, this is the toughest. Early indications are that mom doesn't like it much either. Practically, though, it's attractive.

    I'd get to stay in school, and our $600 rent and utility bills would disappear. And with the pay from my part-time jobs going into a "household" account, mom would not only save the hundreds she now hands over every month, but also receive money that would offset the additional expenses our residence would create.

    I'd commute in with mom, saving gas and (maybe) insurance. Jen and I would help with housework, which tends to pile up, and cook. (Often dining out or eating fast food, they do seem impressed with our culinary abilities.)

    Finally Jen -- who would be able to stay home with our daughter -- would also help defuse another potential problem: Grandma Henderson has recently offered to babysit Trevor (cousin Jennifer's 10-month-old son), but mom and I aren't sure if she's up to it. Jen could, after honing her parenting skills, care for both Katherine and Trevor... and keep grandma company.

I ran option four by dad mostly to get a feel for how it'd go with mom. I certainly understand why she'd be against it. She didn't live 53 years and raise two sons to have one -- the only one to make it out of the house -- come back with a wife and kid.

And I'm not exactly nuts about the the idea of living in an enclosed patio.

After a few deep breaths to clear the heaviness out of the air, dad, Jen and I left for church (Gayle remaining behind to tend to the terrified dogs). We picked up grandma Ozawa in Manoa and headed out to Waipahu.

It was 11 p.m., and the island-wide pyrotechnic celebration was in full swing. As we passed through Kalihi, the smoke was so thick we couldn't see five streetlights down the freeway. The ridges above Pearl Harbor sparkled with illegal aerials. Headlights of oncoming cars appeared brown, all of Waipahu smothered in a gunpowder smog.

[ Temple ]We got to the Waipahu Soto Zen Taiyoji a little late. The ceremonial bell ringing (jyoya no kane) was already over. As the ministers were setting up, we went in, offered incense and sat down next to uncle Gordon and his wife.

The fireworks outside were deafening, but the temple persevered. Finally we began chanting. The sutra, "Hannya Shingyo," was familiar to me from past services, but Jen and I had to read it in phonetic English to participate.

The chant is long, lasting about four minutes, and we repeated it ten times. By the fifth time, my mouth was dry, but we kept it up.

The monotonous drone of everyone chanting together, backed by the relentless beat of a drum, was mesmerizing. As midnight passed, the priest had to chant especially loud to help everyone keep their place. It was surreal.

After a while, my early years of temple-going came back to me, and I had the end verse memorized:

"Gya te gya te ha ra gya te ha ra so gya te bo ji so wa ka han nya shin gyo..."

With three rings of the bell the drum stopped and the chant was finished. Jen and I quietly wished eachother a happy new year and kissed.

The minister then took a few minutes to talk about the New Year's service, and explained the meaning of the number 108.

For as long as I can remember, I knew the number 108 was significant in Buddhism. Bells are rung 108 times, for example, and prayer bracelets have 27 beads (108 divided by four). Sermons frequently mention the 108 human desires.

I thought that they were like the Western seven deadly sins; that Buddhists are so cool they just have a lot more. Actually, as the minister explained, 108 is just the result of the following math:

6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108

Six senses -- eye/sight (gen/shiki), ear/hearing (ni/sho), nose/smell (bi/ko), tongue/taste (ze/mi), body/touch (shin/soku) and mind/emotion (ni/ho); Three judgements -- like, dislike and neutral; two states -- pure and tainted; and three times -- past, present and future.

Finally, he pointed out a passage in "Hannya Shingyo" that lists the senses:

"Mu gen ni bi ze shin ni shiki sho ko mi soku ho..."

It was the first time I actually paid attention to a Buddhist minister's sermon, and I actually learned something.

Finally, the congregation lined up and received their blessings for the new year. We were tapped on the head with "holy water" and thumped on the shoulders with a big, accordion-folded, gold-trimmed book.

Afterward we got rice wine, bean cakes and omamori, or good luck charms, for the home. I bought a new traveler's omamori for my car, remarking that my current charm definitely deserved retirement. I also got extra omamori for dad, mom and grandma Henderson.

We got home at 1:30 a.m. and crashed.

It wasn't First Night or a boisterous family party. Some (including me, up until this year) would see the chanting, blessings and omamori as weird or superstitious. But I'm glad I went. Even Jen, a Catholic by birth who "usually spends New Year's depressed and crying," felt at peace.

Good riddance, 1997. May 1998 be, if not generous, merciful.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 1 January 1997 · Last Modified: 3 January 1997