Saturday, December 5, 2009

"It's hard to hold a candle in the cold November Rain" - Guns & Roses

It has been over a month and boy where does a pregnant lady even begin to start? There have been highs and lows, almost soap opera-like lows, but I'm just happy to be warm in my bed right now as I begin to tell you the series of events that were November. It started with my glucose test, yet another ultra sound, my wonderful baby shower, a family filled Thanksgiving, 7 month photo shoot, and ended with me in a car accident, then not 24 hours after being released from the hospital, I was back because my father had an accident at work. All this while being 7 months pregnant.

Glucose & Ultrasound...
I had to get a glucose test. Did you know that you can't have eaten 2 hours prior to the test, then when you get to the lab, they give you this sugar drink that you have to drink as fast as you can. When you finish the drink, the countdown starts, and you need to stay there for a whole hour, and they won't let you leave. Luckily for me, my Glucose test came out fine in the end.

I also went back for a followup ultrasound and the liquid space in the baby's brain has grown from 1.2 to 1.3. They said there is no issue, but still I wonder if that's because the baby is growing, or because they do not want me to worry... During the ultrasound, I was able to get an image of the baby's face. He looks sleepy, and I think he has my Asian eyes. :)


The BABY SHOWER:

November 15th, 2009 came along and it was time for the much anticipated baby shower. Many people came; far more than the 5 people I had predicted. My sister had done a great job with the venue and keeping the party classy. Some of the Asian themed parts of the party included:
  • hand-made origami cranes made by me and Steph
  • personalized fortune cookies with fortunes like, "Javier & Shirley thought it fitting, that you would do all the baby-sitting"
  • Chinese food
  • Cupcakes with origami crane decorations





THANKSGIVING -

My sister and I were trying to coordinate a family-filled Thanksgiving by inviting our extended family from the East Bay, as usual. Again, as usual, it was like pulling teeth trying to figure out if our East Bay family would be able to attend (everyone has differing schedules). As Thanksgiving got closer, they had decided to stay in the East Bay for the festivities. On the other hand, it seems as though out of the blue, Javier's brother called to say that he would be coming for Thanksgiving. When I told Javier, he was genuinely surprised and happiness filled his face. If my own family is difficult to get together, then his brother is usually even harder.
A few days before Thanksgiving, my mother called me to tell me that practically everyone from the East Bay would be coming for Thanksgiving... AND their dogs. The total count on Thanksgiving day was 12 people, one baby, and seven dogs.

I even went to Petsmart to buy a muzzle and a gate to keep Qori away from the other dogs and prevent him from snapping and kicking their butts. While at the pet store, the clerk was pressing me to let him help me to my car. I continued to refuse. I'm not disabled... just pregnant.

7 MONTH PHOTO SHOOT

We've been really bad keeping up with the monthly photo shoots. So bad in fact that before this 7 month photoshoot, the last shoot we did was the 4 month photo shoot. This 7 month almost didn't happen either. I woke up very lethargic and felt like I could be getting a cold. Standing in the position in the photo for more than a minute made my arms and legs very tired. We pushed and persevered, and now I have the 7 month memory....


CAR ACCIDENT
The very last day of November came and I was scheduled to commute an hour and a half away to the city of Vacaville for a presentation. I was still pretty lethargic but wrote it off as typical pregnancy symptoms. I even felt weird during my 15 minute morning commute to South San Francisco, but didn't think too much about it. I had lunch at work, and prepped myself to begin my drive to Vacaville. I made it about 40 minutes to Pinole, when I began to feel a little weird. It was all very fast. I was in the fast lane of the freeway and pulled one lane over as soon as I began to feel weird. My intention was to pull over a few lanes more and pull over on the right emergency lane of the freeway. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time. I had only pulled one lane over when I blacked out. I assume that I was only unconscious for a few seconds, but in those few seconds my car must have steered back into the fast lane and hit the concrete center divider wall. I have a vague recollection of hearing the impact, but that is all. When I came to I saw that my car was still moving along the fast lane but there was scraping noise. I thought the body of my car was scraping against the cement wall, so once again I tried to pull over to the right. There weren't too many cars near me so I went for it. I ended up in the triangle between the merging lane and the freeway. My car would not go any further. I called 911, Javier, and my boss.
It turned out the sound of the scraping was not the body of my car, which surprisingly was not so bad. It was my wheel which was practically separated from the rest of the vehicle. I had pushed it too far trying to get to the right lane, but lucky for me, I made it. In the picture below, the wheel appears to be attached... trust me, it's not.

I've never considered myself lucky, but I've always felt like someone or something has been guiding me in life. That's why I love the Bible footprints story. There are many things that I am thankful for.
  1. The baby is perfectly fine
  2. I walked out of the wreck with barely a scratch on me (I didn't notice 3 scratches until 2 days later)
  3. No other cars were involved even though I was in the fast lane and I lost consciousness.
The police officer asked me if I had anything to drink, and had me to a test of following his finger with my eyes. Then Javier came to get me and drive me back home. After figuring out the details about towing my car, I checked myself into the hospital with my family. I felt so bad having put my family through so much stress. I was admitted to the labor and delivery department where the doctors checked on the status of the baby. He was rolling around perfectly fine. I imagined him in the womb saying, "Again!" after the accident. He was the only one conscious enough to know what actually happened.

After the baby was deemed in perfect health, and my blood work came through just fine, I was sent to the ER to try and see what had caused me to faint. My EKG came out fine, and the doctor was stumped. I saw worry in Javier's face; something could really be wrong with me. Was it my brain? The doctor was ready to release me when I mentioned that I had that funny feeling while reclined in my sister's car as she drove me to the hospital as well as when I was admitted to the hospital and the nurse laid me down to take my vitals.

He asked me to lay down on my back and he would be back in 10 minutes. When he came back, I was still feeling fine, so he began to speak of my release again. That's when it began, and I warned the doctor. He called the nurse to put me on the machines, but there wasn't enough time. I would black out any second, so he allowed me back into an upright position.

He apologized and told me that he would have me lay on my back again, this time hooked up to the machines. The feeling came back after a few minutes; the nurse had me lay on my left side, and I instantly felt better. She said, "it's the vena cava".

The baby was putting pressure on a major vein that supplies oxygen to the heart. In very rare cases, it causes blackouts. I looked it up online and think it's called supine hypotensive syndrome. I am so extra-sensitive that the baby caused me to blackout simply by sitting in my car while driving. The doctor joked that usually people blame the parents, but this is one case where we could blame the baby. I was admitted back to the labor and delivery department and kept overnight, sleeping only on my side.

In the morning I saw a prenatal specialist. Although he had all the paperwork from the night before, I guess he had to see it for himself. He had me lay on my back. The symptoms started in less than 10 minutes.

Before leaving, I was told to stay hydrated, wear loose clothing, sleep only on my side, avoid any reclined positions, have a little more caffeine in my diet, and finally not to drive. I emailed my job to let them know. I have been allowed to work from home for the rest of the pregnancy.

DAD'S ACCIDENT

The night back from the hospital was very uncomfortable for me. I never noticed how much I laid on my back until I couldn't anymore. In the morning I was picking up the pieces of where I had left off before my accident. It hadn't even been 24 hours when my mother called me to check on me. She asked how I was, to which I responded that I was fine. She talked with me a bit, then it seemed out the blue she calmly said, "I just wanted to let you know that I am at the hospital again, your dad had an accident at work but his is here lucid and talking to me just fine."

"What?!!!!! What happened?" I literally felt my blood pressure rise and my heart rate go up.

"He was in the back of a truck tightening a load when a driver accidently got into the wrong truck because he was being rushed and took off, and your dad fell out of the back of the truck, hit his head and blacked out. He has a couple of staples in his head and some stitches on his elbow, and his body is aching, but he is OK."

Eventhough I couldn't drive anymore, I called Javier and we went back to the hospital. My dad seemed of low spirits when I walked into his room. However about an hour later, when the Vicodin fully kicked in, he began acting like his usual self. My dad, like me, would need to be kept in the hospital over night. He still had some bleeding in his brain that had to be monitored. However, my dad would recover and did not require surgery. Once we heard the good news, we were a little more relaxed. My dad and I spent less time in hospitals than the rest of the family. We were not accident prone types, so it was so odd that we dropped like flies within 24 hours of each other. I held up my hand, which still had my medical band on it, and placed in next to my father's..... for the memories.


The next day, my father was released from the hospital after confirming via CAT scan that the blood in his brain had completely disappeared. Now he is focusing on the latest topic: everything that his company had done wrong during the emergency. After the fall, they made him walk around instead of waiting for the ambulance, he had been admitted to the wrong clinic, then the wrong hospital, and the company never called my mother about the emergency, although they call all the time to ask my father to work overtime. After being released from the hospital, his company wanted him to come back to fill out paper work. He did not. Then he began getting conflicting calls from the company, the union, his lawyer, etc. The company wanted him to come for a follow-up appointment and not see his primary physician; the union wanted him to go see his primary physician. He decided not to go to the clinic.

We do not know what will happen next, but my father for the time being has the week off.


Meanwhile I had to hitch a ride to the hospital for my followup appointment. I needed to do even more blood work and need to get a shot because of my special blood type. Depending on other people for a car ride is going to be VERY hard for me. I've always been self-sufficient. Now the person at Petsmart doesn't seem so bad...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Deep thoughts, Celebrations, & Aggression

I completed the bloodwork for the Isolated Mild Ventricolmegaly this week and was given a clean bill of health. I am infection-free, so that possibility is now off the table. I have scheduled my next ultrasound for next month and am hoping, but not really anticipating that the issue will have resolved itself by then.

I spent a lot of time last week thinking about the issue, deep down in my mind. I guess it really got to me. It was hard for me to continue enjoying the pregnancy as I once had been doing. But day by day, the baby's kicking has steadily become stronger and more frequent that it's hard for me to imagine that he may have any issues at all.

My sister's birthday also passed, and she had a big birthday bash at the Cigar Bar and Grill in San Francisco. At the party I talked with a lot of her friends that were either pregnant or had recently had children. They gave it to me straight, and I liked that. I haven't really talked to many other mom's about the "joys" of having children.

My "uncle" and "aunt" were also in town this week and Javier coordinated not one, but two lunches with them before they left back to Indio - near Palm Springs, CA. During the first lunch my husband was having a blast with my "cousin's" children. I know that he loves children, because he becomes one himself when he's around them. By the end of the lunch, the eldest child called Javier his "buddy".

The second lunch was at a very expensive Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco called La Mar. I had always wanted to go, but Javier had previously stated no intent to "make them richer". I always joke that he is a hater, and shouldn't be hating on his own people. In the end, I finally got to dine there. It was pretty good, but too expensive. I may never go back, so I enjoyed it while I was there.
He's been very busy with the birth of his new construction company. These past few weeks have been consumed with painting his van, creating business cards, receiving his official license, etc. I am very proud of him, but I still wonder when we'll have time for the baby.

Instead my sister and I have been focusing on the baby shower. We spent our Halloween shopping for clothes and baby shower decorations. To remind you, she is making it an Asian-themed celebration. Clothes shopping was a disappointment - everything makes me look fat. We also went to a Japanese store called Daiso, and bought fans and little zen temples that will adorn as the centerpieces. Since my sister is into baking cupcakes, we also spent the night creating little origami paper cranes made of fondant that will top the cupcakes. It's all coming together, and it's hard to believe that the shower will be less than 2 weeks away.

Although this Halloween week was marred because the bay bridge had been shut down for an emergency repair, we still went and visited my aunt and grandmother with my parents over the weekend. I did not think it was a good idea to bring my Qori to my aunt's house, but Javier insisted.

I spent most of my time trying to mediate between Qori and my aunt's dachshund, Max. By the end of the night, I had failed. Max was nipping at Qori one too many times, and Qori decided to unleash his wrath upon him. I was there, 6 months pregnant, trying to stop a dog fight between a 90 lb dog and one that was barely a pound (I'm not really sure). As Max was yelping, I tried my best to pull Qori by the collar, but couldn't find it in the madness. Instead I decided to grab ahold of his neck skin, and pull him away with raw force. It worked, but later I found that 1/4 of my nail had ripped off in the process. I freaked out when I saw blood, thinking something had happened to the dogs. It turned out that the only one bleeding was me. My aunt, bless her heart, was so positive about the whole thing. She told me that my nail would grow back. Maybe she thought I was upset about my nail, but I didn't care. She told me that Max deserved it and that she knows how he is, so not to feel bad. She also told me that he was not bleeding and was in the other room with his tail wagging wanting to come out. Still, at that moment, I was just upset at the whole situation and hated the fact that I'm the one with a bully dog - a Golden Retriever of all things! As I examined my nail, I noticed that my whole body and hands were shaking uncontrollably. My mom tried to get me to drink sugar water, but I refused like a brat - I was just too upset. My aunt mentioned that the dogs would spend plenty of time together in future get togethers like when we go camping. In my mind, I had written off any future family campings and even the trip to the Lake Tahoe snow this winter that I wanted to plan, because of what had just happened.

I was so emotional and upset. I took my frustration out on Javier for forcing Qori to come when we knew how he gets. It's been on my mind for 2 days now. But after thinking about it some more and talking with my sister, I realize that I can't just hide Qori from social interactions either. She reminded me that I had once bought him a muzzle, and so the new rule is that he will always wear a muzzle in the presence of canine company. This rule will also pass on when the baby is born and begins to crawl, just as a precautionary measure. I would hate if Qori did something to the baby, though I doubt it. And I would hate to find out that my dad et. all were right for voicing there concerns OVER & OVER again about my aggressive golden retriever.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Isolated Mild Ventriculomegaly


I went in for my fourth ultrasound yesterday at 22 weeks (5 1/2 months). The good news is the "air bubbles" seem to have resolved themselves and are no longer there, which is good news, I thought. But then the doctor came up with something new, and even more ambiguous than the air bubbles: Isolated Mild Ventriculomegaly. To keep things relatively simple, which I need, they measured a space of liquid in the brain and found that my baby is a 1.18 or a 1.2. Scientists consider 1.0 and below to be normal, but 1.5 and above is reason to worry. My baby, of course, had to land somewhere in the middle.
We were told that this will most likely be a normal pregnancy, but there are still risks of chromosomal abnormalities or abnormal brain development. We were given a bunch of options, none of them would be conclusive other than the Amnio, and that would only help me determine if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. But of course, amnio carries a small chance of miscarriage that Javier and I are not willing to risk.

Our options are:
  1. Do nothing and trust that our baby is fine, because he is boy it is more normal to have a larger space of liquid, and there is about an 80% chance that everything will turn out fine.
  2. Get some more bloodwork done to see if I had an infection. (Even if I did, there would be nothing I could do about it at this point)
  3. Get a fetal MRI to see the baby's brain in more detail (but these are relatively new for fetuses -about 5 years- and results are all over the place. There is no standard set yet so I would be part of a study where I could help other couples with this issue, not necessarily help myself because the data could come back even more confusing. Again, whatever the data results are there would be nothing that could be done to "fix" the issue)
  4. Get an amnio to check for chromosomal abnormalities and decide if I want to terminate the pregnancy.
This is all just so mentally stressful, especially the fact that doctors can't clearly tell me if I'm at risk or not. Then I wonder, what does it matter? Javier and I will go through the pregnancy no matter what. The results of these tests will either help me know ahead of time or cause more confusion and stress during the pregnancy. We don't want to over-complicate this pregnancy, so as of right now, we are leaning more towards just doing the blood work and checking for an infection. I'm patient enough to find out the rest later, and have faith that everything is OK due to both our family's health, and my generally healthy lifestyle (minus my love of fast food). Still, I'd give a lot to be able to peer into future of these blog postings and be able to see how things actually turned out...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

30 years old & Pregnant


I woke up last week 30 years old and 5 months pregnant. Although I never really imagined what my 30th birthday would be like, I hardly ever envisioned I'd be pregnant for it. Weeks ago, my sister and I were having a discussion where she stated that her 30th birthday would be crazy with a lot of drinking and a lot of partying.

Seeing she was unaware of my impending age, I reminded her by saying, "You know... I am turning 30 this year."

In her typical upfront matter, her only response was, "Wow, you really fucked that one up didn't you?" and we just laughed hysterically.

But honestly, I don't think I "F"-ed anything up. I'm not much of a partyer - I got over those things back in my first year of college. I also don't like celebrating things that revolve around me very much either. I hate having birthday parties for myself, and was actually rather relieved that Javier and I didn't have an official wedding ceremony when we got married. I don't really know what my problem is. It's not that I'm anti-social because I do like to talk and hang out with people. It's just that I like to stay home nice and cozy more than that. But I realize how bad I actually am when I see how much my sister goes out with her friends and boyfriend. And I've especially noticed how out of touch I am now that my sister is planning my baby shower and after I went to a baptism/child's birthday party the same weekend as my birthday.

My sister has been taking this baby shower very seriously. She's already picked a theme (Japanese Asian fusion), bought decorations, picked a venue, and ordered invitations. She gave me one major homework item: to come up with the invitation list. I grudgingly went along with it, but honestly feared that I would not be able to come up with more than 5 names on the list. After a lot of thinking and talking with Javier about which of his friends would come (it's co-ed) I was surprised to find that the list had grown to about 50 people, and we're guestimating that at least 25-30 will actually attend. At one point I walked over to my sister on her laptop and asked what the invitations looked like. She said I wasn't supposed to see them or know anything. I had peeked and seen she was looking at chocolate covered fortune cookies on her screen - appetizers perhaps? But that's how out of the loop I am... I don't even know all the customary nuances to planning a baby shower. I'm actually glad that I got pregnant before she did because I would really be messing her shower up if the shoe were on the other foot.

I also decided to go to a baptism/child's birthday party with my mother. Neither of us wanted to go for the actual baptism, so we opted to go to the after party. We got there when the party was in full swing. As we walked through the front door, we saw a bunch of children on the living room floor, quiet and paying attention to something. I looked forward and noticed a huge puppet stage had been built in the living room, and we were walking in on the show. We walked toward the kitchen, and from the kitchen window we saw one of those big blow-up bouncy things that kids could jump around in setup in the backyard. Again, I was glad to have seen this before my baby's birthday. I guess cake and hats just aren't enough these days. I started to wonder what cool things I could do for him... ponies were the first thing that came to my mind for some reason.

My 30th birthday was spent wine tasting sniffing in Napa with my family. I stuffed my body into a green empire-waist dress that I could barely fit into the week before my birthday.


What I really wanted to do was sit outside in the vineyard and have a nice picnic with cold pesto pasta and cheese and crackers. Unfortunately, we didn't go to the usual vineyard, Viyansa, and I soon found out that not many vineyards in the area served both food and wine. It was usually just wine, so we (excluding me) did a lot of drinking prior to going in search of food. We didn't really drink that much, but here's my father joking that he's drunk:
And walking "the line":


After all the sniffing and drinking, we ended up in downtown Napa searching for an Italian restaurant because that's my favorite food right now.
It ended up being a very nice birthday. On the way home unfortunately, a topic came up that I have had enough of: my Golden Retriever, Qori. My dog has been known to "snap" at other dogs over food and sometimes over me. It is not just a warning growl and a snap of the jaws, but a full-blown "I'm gonna git you sucka!" attack. Though Qori has never shown this type of aggression towards humans, my family is worried that he may act out on the baby. I have tried to be rational and listen to their concerns the LAST 5o TIMES when they've expressed them to me. Unfortunately, after hearing it over and over again, they really start to paint a picture of Qori like he is some kind of monster, and that does not go over well with me. I swear on the car ride home, my blood was literally boiling as I listened to them discuss my "dangerous" dog over and over again. I sat back in my chair and couldn't help but think back a few months ago before we found out I was pregnant. It was on the way home from Japan, we were in China catching our connecting flight to the U.S. We were in the security line, when my dad mentioned he'd heard a news story about a dog that missed his owners so much during their trip to Japan, that he ended up in Japan roaming the streets looking for them.

Being very gullible to my dad's super-serious face, I said, "How'd he get on the plane?" That's when he handed me a Japanese credit card application, and I knew it was all a joke. He was just talking about my Qori.

***************************************
The past few weeks have been very busy for Javier, so busy that we've barely had time to think of a name for the baby, although he's been passing hints joking around that he'd like to name the baby Vladimir (After Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime minister). We've been working on getting his contractor's license, which is a long time due. After filling out all the application information, he was finally approved and had his law and trade exam was scheduled after my birthday. He was also having problems with his van, and unfortunately had to have his transmission rebuilt, which set him back over $3000, so he'd been borrowing my car for the week. At the same time, he was going to Sacramento (a 2 hr drive) on the weekends to go to his class to study for the law & trade exams. One of the days after he had picked up his car from the transmission repair, he was driving back from Sacramento and his van began smoking on the Bay Bridge and almost came to a complete stall. He forced it off the bridge, but had to have it towed back to the transmission place. He was very upset about everything that's been going on lately. Lucky for him, the transmission work was under warranty, and the entire transmission was replaced for free.

The only recent good news it seems for him has been the sex of the baby, and that he PASSED HIS EXAMS! He was so happy the last week, gloating floating on air and making plans for his business card and painting his van. Unfortunately, his happiness only lasted the week because on Friday, he got into a heated argument with his brother (who works for him) and fired him. He didn't really mean to fire him, he just has a problem controlling his anger sometimes and has been under a lot of stress lately. He spent the weekend sullen and left several messages to his brother apologizing for his actions. He realized that his brother was his right-hand man, and how much he depended on him. But his brother has not returned any of his calls and did not show up to work on Monday. He said that things will be harder if his brother does not return, and he will have to pick up even more slack than he's been since he found out we were pregnant.
Through all of this turbulence in his life lately, I have been standing by lending a helping hand where I can. It seems like every week there is a new drama that takes precedent over everything else, and I'm left to wonder when we will have time to enjoy the pregnancy.
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Today, I returned from my recent prenatal appointment. At 5 months, 1 week (21 weeks) they weighed me in at 139lbs, which means I've gained 11 lbs. in total. I'm thinking this is pretty good since I'm more than halfway through the pregnancy. For the most part, my body has remained normal except for my protruding belly. One of my friends showed me a picture of her pregnant sister in-law, who is almost due. She was putting henna on her belly. I stared at the big belly and saw that that her belly button did not pop out. I'm afraid mine might, and that will be gross! It already looks like it's starting to fold outward at the top.


While waiting at the Dr.'s office two black women were chatting with each other. They were both almost due, but while one had gained weight all around, the other had just in her belly. The bigger one started talking about vaginal reconstruction and if tightening was included in the insurance. I shuddered at the thought, and unintentionally found out that it is, in fact, covered by insurance.

The Dr. listened to the baby's heartbeat in the room. We heard him kicking and swishing around a lot. She said, "You have a very active baby!" I've been hearing that a lot lately, and joke that he's probably going to be like his father. That worries me a little. Javier is sometimes too much for me, and sometimes I encourage him to go out with friends to expend all that energy.
A few nights ago, while our energetic baby was kicking around, I lifted my shirt to see if I could actually see the movements and told Javier to look. He kicked and my stomach bounced on it's own. That was the first time that Javier had seen it.

A couple weeks ago when the fetal movements were just starting up, Javier fell asleep on the couch with his head on my stomach. With all the stress of school and work, he fell into a deep sleep and started snoring pretty loud, which is not unusual. That's when a funny thing happened. The baby started kicking like crazy! I imagined him in the womb, kicking and punching to make the noise stop. It was too funny.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boy, OH Boy!

So let's start off with the obvious, if you've read the title. Yes, it's true. The little guy is, in fact, a guy... well, he will be. For now let's go with the standard verbiage of, "It's a boy!"

I guess it's true what they say about mothers being very in-tune with the sex of their baby. Although, I thought it would be nice to have a girl (only because it's fun to dress them up), deep down inside I somehow knew it was a boy. Steph is naturally taking all credit for being the first to call the sex of the baby. But by the end, everyone except Javier's mom had guessed boy.

Even Javier, Mr. "As long as the baby is healthy" finally spit out the night before the ultrasound that he thought it was going to be a boy. I didn't even have to drag it out of him.

I invited my parents to the ultrasound and naturally Javier came too. It was a packed little room full of nosy curious family, me, and the technician. The lady started off by telling me that she would be taking somewhere around 70 pictures. This would be the second screening for down syndrome and trisomy 18.

The first thing that she mentioned was that the baby was laying face down, which would be a little difficult for picture purposes. Here's a picture of him face down. You can really see his developed spine.
She was very patient, explaining a lot of the the stuff that she was seeing on the screen which at some points looked more to me like an ink blot test, rather than an ultrasound. We saw the baby moving a lot, and now there's no doubt in my mind that the "spasms" I've been feeling in my stomach are actually fetal movements.

She spent a lot of time focusing on the head and measuring limbs. Near the end, she had been trying really hard to get me a nice profile picture, but he just wasn't moving from his favorite face-down position. In a last attempt, she suggested that I go to the bathroom and relieve my full bladder and then "jump around, shake, or dance" to see if I could get the baby to move out of that position. I must've looked like an idiot in the bathroom, but it was kind of fun :).

As I left for the bathroom, my dad started asking the technician questions about the baby and if we would know the sex. She replied, "I already know what the sex of the baby is...." then everything got muffled because I was in the bathroom, but I'm pretty sure that my family was trying to get her to tell them before I got back from the bathroom.

When I returned from the bathroom, and we tried again there was no luck. She said, "You have a stubborn baby." But she did manage to get a picture of his face full-frontal. Although it's a little scary because it's skeletal, it reassured me that he was not going to be a cyclops. There are definitely two eye sockets in this picture:
Finally, she focused in on a picture and pointed to something on the screen. "Do you know what that is?" she asked. My whole family couldn't tell what she was pointing at, so she drew an arrow on the picture. I said, "testicles?" and my mom said, "penis?" and the lady said, "Yes, you're having a boy."

I looked over at my husband whose attention had suddenly perked. He quickly got up from his seat to get a closer look at the screen. He asked, "Are you 100% sure? You won't come back to me a month later and say sorry, it was a mistake, will you?" To which the technician replied, "Well, girls don't have that!" and we broke out in laughter. I debated whether I should include the next picture; maybe it's too x-rated, but I can barely even tell what it is. Plus, I don't want to wait until he's a teenager to start embarrassing him in front of girls, so what the heck! You'll notice the arrow and that the technician wrote, "I'm a boy!"

The funny thing is that he was just kicking me as I uploaded this picture. Maybe we just had our first disagreement... LOL!

The technician tried her best to get a good profile picture, but he just wasn't budging. She decided to give him some time while she sent the results to the doctor. She was gone a few minutes, when she reappeared with both the doctor and genetic specialist. An already-packed room, became even more cozy with people.

The doctor began to tell me that I had great results. The results for down syndrome had decreased since the first screening. I was also looking good for trisomy 18. She said they found no risk for diseases. Then she began to tell me about something they had found. To which my heart began to beat fast, and I'm sure I did not hide my emotion on my face.

She said that for lack of a better term, they saw an "air bubble" in the baby's head, which they assured me is very common and safe (choroid plexus cyst). Apparently, 1 in 50 ultrasounds finds these bubbles. Unfortunately, they are also commonly associated with trisomy 18 and although I had spectacular results, they were an uber conservative bunch and preferred to take another look. The doctor had come in the room to view the ultrasound for the size of the baby's hands and overall body, which she said looked great as she inspected on the screen. She proceeded to console me by restating that the baby was healthy.

I wanted to believe, but a bubble in my baby's head was scary to think about, especially since I had no idea how that would affect him. While we had been discussing this bubble, the technician was finally able to snap a profile pic of him.
We were then escorted to another room to talk with the genetic specialist, Larry (the only name I remember, probably because he jokingly suggested that as the baby's name at the end of our discussion). In the room, he continued to talk about the bubble. He said that bubbles are very common, and that someone in the room probably had one. You could live your whole life with it, and there's no impact. I started to wonder if he was allowed to lie to me in order to keep me calm, I decided that he couldn't. He said that his team is just really conservative and they wanted to monitor the bubble since it's associated with trisomy 18. He re-iterated over and over again that he was not worried about my baby. He said my blood & ultrasounds from the first and second screenings were spectacular, so he was not worried at all. He wanted me to come in for another ultrasound in about three weeks to check in on the bubble. Then he added, "You don't have to but we recommend it, plus you can get more pictures and see the baby again."

He had a point, so I accepted. I started to take more of a quantifiable approach to the whole thing and decided that everything he was telling me was true, and I don't need to be worried for right now.

After the screening, Javier was so happy about the news that he suggested that the family go out and celebrate at Benihanas, the cool japanese restaurant where they cook and do tricks right at your table. Very fitting, since we all know that the baby has japanese roots!

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Young and the Restless

09/08/09

If the world could be equated to an extra-fluffy pillow and down-comforter, then that's exactly what it is for me right now. I've been sleeping-in every morning, and I feel like I'm sleeping my life away.
This pregnancy does not have the characteristics of a "normal" pregnancy. For me, it's all about sleeping, drinking water and juice like crazy (I wake up with cotton-mouth every morning), and eating less (my sister's ban on many foods is really not affecting me as badly as I thought it would).
I have reached my 4-month mark and am currently 17 weeks pregnant.
Yesterday, I took advantage of my sister's photography skills and took the first photo of my pregnancy timeline. Here's how the photo came out:


I must admit although I've got a belly, so far it seems easy to hide, not that I'm hiding anything anymore. In fact, now that the secret is out for the most part I feel normal. Although I have experienced a few slick eyes that immediately go down to my belly in mid-conversation. I even thought to myself, "so this must be how a buxom girl feels when men don't look her in the eyes!" although in my case, the eyes divert a little bit lower.
To gear up for the inevitable weight gain, I went crazy shopping for loose-fitting shirts and flat shoes, and I borrowed my sister's "fat pants".
I was discussing with my sister whether we thought I was going to have a boy or a girl (Javier doesn't want to play the guessing game - he's giving me the "I just want it to be healthy" run-around). We decided to Google "old wives tales to determine baby gender". We put each tale to the test and the outcome so far is that I will be having a boy. And honestly, this is the feeling that I have deep down inside. I will know for sure in 2 weeks, so the next time I give a pregnancy update, I will know the gender!

Today, I have been feeling what I think are fetal movements. Last week I thought I felt it too, but I also thought they could be muscle spasms because I felt them mostly right after a good sneeze. They were more "fluttery" whereas today they are stronger, longer, and more defined "pushing" in my tummy area. I've always joked that Javier has Restless Leg Syndrome, and I think that baby Cyclops may have inherited it too! ;) Poor baby, I'm restful and he/she is restless...

The Secret is Out!

I'm somewhere at 14 weeks, which means most significantly that I'm through my first trimester. That's significant because the risk of miscarriage is now lower, and I'm supposed to be over most of the pregnancy symptoms (or lack there of in this case).
Javier came with me to my latest check up and heard the baby's heart beat. I also needed to get blood work done and another ultrasound to screen the baby for down syndrome. The results came back very good. "Better than a teenager" if I may quote the nurse.
During the most recent ultrasound, I was able to see the baby's hand. Each finger came through so clearly on the screen, but the technician didn't snap a picture of it :(. Actually, to be quite honest, she pretty much sucked at getting good photos of the baby this time, though she had many opportunities. Here is the best one, though I've been jokingly calling the baby "cyclops" because of the photo:
When I reached 13 weeks, I decided it was finally the best time to let out the big secret to friends, family, and co-workers. I had strategically sent out emails and updated my Facebook account with the news. Within minutes, emails from co-workers came pouring in, and yet nothing from my family members. I had sent a separate email to my family which included the video of my parents' reaction. I was surprised that no one had responded to me. Hours later I would find out that my family was too busy calling my mother to congratulate HER! I joked to her that she was stealing my thunder.



But honestly, she's been wanting grandchildren so badly, that I can see how this is her news too.

Long-Awaited Reveal

07/15/2009

I am now 9 weeks pregnant, and I know I said that a lot of things happened last week, but even more happened this week!
Fourth of July came and went, and my family went the the Marin County fair to make a day of the holiday and watch the special fireworks show at the end of the day. My sister has been dying to tell my mother and father that I am pregnant, but we all needed to stick to the plan. I had been feverishly working on the reveal video for a week because we were planning to reveal the secret to my parents prior to my sister going on her trip to Australia.
While at the county fair, my father and Javier went to go buy some beer while my mother and I sat and ate at a table. A man walked by with a stroller that had two babies in it. The grandfather was playing with his grandchildren. Then my mother commented, "I wonder what kind of grandfather your father will be. I think he will be loving just like he is with the dogs." I just grit my teeth trying not to let out the secret.
A couple of days passed and it was FINALLY time to go to my first prenatal appointment. Javier has been putting in so much work now that we're pregnant, that my sister came with me instead of him. My doctor was very succinct with our conversation (I imagine she says the same thing every day). They gave me a bunch of prenatal vitamins, and papers for future appointments and sent us off to have my ultrasound. Did you know that you have to have a very full bladder to have an ultrasound? My GOD that was uncomfortable, as the girl pressed my stomach to get the image. But it was worth it when we saw the image on the screen. A little baby about 1 1/2-in big, with a big head like its father :) and a small bottom like me, and only nubs for arms and legs. Steph and I were mesmerized by the heart beat, which we couldn't hear but could definitely see on the screen. The lady told us the heartbeat was 180 beats/min, which is normal. The lady said that this is the time when they begin to be more active, so she held the ultrasound for a few seconds over my bladder without moving, and the baby waved with its entire body. I think that's when Steph and I got emotional though we only showed happiness (she later admitted to getting teary-eyed).

Steph had filmed a part of the ultrasound appointment as planned for the reveal video. We were given a picture copy of the baby and given a clean bill of health so far. My fears were resolved, but I'll still feel much better after the 1st trimester is over.
So the end of the week finally came, and Stephanie had elaborately lied to my parents about getting together at their house for a pre-Australia dinner. My parents were clueless about what was going to happen. I even went to the Outback Steakhouse and brought home Aussie Cheese Fries as a tribute to the trip. We were waiting for my father to come home from work before I played the reveal video.
When he finally came home, I announced that I had made a small video about our trip to Asia, but I needed their undivided attention for two minutes. My father looked puzzled when I explained that he couldn't talk or ask questions while watching the video because it was funny and he might miss the point. I played the video, meanwhile Stephanie, Javier, and I were all filming my parent's reaction as they watched the video. I think my father was stunned to silence as the only words that left his mouth were "You're pregnant!?", and then he just sat there with a smile on his face taking it all in. My mother on the otherhand, let out a whole-hearted laugh of happiness as soon as the revelation was made, which was quickly followed up with maternal tears. She had been waiting for this for a looooong time. My father finally regained his composure and congratulated us, and in his true fashion he finished it off with a fun, comedic question: "Made in China? or Made in Japan?"

End of an Era

07/01/09

I am now 8 weeks pregnant and a lot of things happened this week. I found out that my close cousin in Peru is 2 months pregnant. She is around my age, and years ago we had a fun little race to see who would get pregnant first. She is older than me and was finding it tough to get pregnant. I was just married so I had only just begun to try. Months later it would turn out that she was pregnant with her first child. She beat me back then.
So you probably understand why this time around, I was a little bothered with the fact that
1)She beat me again - less than one month before me
2)I will have to share my pregnancy time with her.

Even though she lives in another country, I still felt like this was MY special news, and I didn't really think of sharing the limelight. It had been so hard for me to get pregnant, that I just wanted this to be a unique, special time. I know that may sound so selfish, but I must be honest with my feelings, though I will never vocalize them in any other venue. I'm sure it will cause us to bond more, and I was just saying how I needed a support group, but right now that's not particularly what's on my mind.


In passing the news of my cousin's pregnancy through instant message to my sister, I was forced to come out with my secret to her. Hey! I can't lie to my sister, OK!

Shirley: Did u know Maura is 2 months pregnant?
Steph: No! Damn, she's poppin those babies out, isn't she?
Shirley: Yup.

about 30 mins. of time elapses

Steph: So how are your pregnancy plans coming along?
Shirley: I wish you hadn't asked me that.

And I proceeded to spill the beans. My sister was so excited and happy that she was finally going to be an aunt. Having a lot of pregnant friends in the past, she had a lot of advice (though the way she phrases things, it sometimes sounds like direct orders). According to Steph, I cannot eat ceasar dressing, lunch meat, and especially no McDonald's. I nearly fainted. No McDonald's? I pleaded with her and offered to give up smoking instead (this was a joke; I do not smoke). But she stated that she would be snatching many things out of my hand if she caught me. I loath these next few months.

She has, however, come up with a great idea on how I will break the news to my parents. I will edit a video/slideshow about Japan and make them think it's about our trip, however, in the video I will allude to the fact that something big happened there. And in the end, I will break the news that they will be grandparents with a picture of me at the doctor's office. This is going to be a fun video to make.

This week was also Qori's 5th birthday, and I wanted to make sure I gave him extra attention. Even though my furry baby has no idea of the changes that are to come, I still felt like I needed to show him extra love. When the 25th of June came, I had presents and hugs and kisses ready for him which he received whole-heartedly. Sadly, by the time afternoon came, he was sharing his special day with some very bad main stream news. The actress Farrah Faucet had died that morning - this was not a shock because she had been battling cancer but of course sad news. In the evening, the world - and I literally mean the world - was shocked when Michael Jackson suddenly passed away due to cardiac arrest at age 50. Chatter was everywhere: in the halls, on Twitter, on Facebook, on the blogs, on the news, even the radio stations played tribute music. It was so hard to fathom that this was real. I hold on to my memories of the 80s when he was big. I remember my cousin Jovan in a red leather jacket dancing for the family and trying to moon walk. I remember all his hits that made you want to just get up and dance or just sing along at the top of your lungs. Even though I never saw him live, Michael Jackson was the only living legend that I knew. There was ALWAYS Michael Jackson.
As the news broke, I was saddened of course because during the last 10 years of his life, he experienced more turmoil than anything else. Though not a crazy, devoted fan, I was nonetheless always on Michael's side through the scandals - which is not like me. I think it was because deep down inside I understood the feeling of being different than other people, psychologically. Michael was just an extreme case that in my mind should not have been judged simply because he didn't think like the rest of us. He led such a sad life in his last years, and this is why I was sad. Not really because he was dead. While watching all the post-news segments and documentaries, the only thing that I could do was sigh to myself and say, "Poor Michael".

My child will grow up in a world without Michael Jackson's presence. Who will be his or her living legendary figure? I hope it's not the Jonas Brothers...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Secret Irony

06/23/09

I am now almost 7 weeks pregnant, and there are thoughts I never would have thought I would've had once I found out I was pregnant. I thought that finding out that I was pregnant would be a joyous occasion and there would be nothing but 9 months of emotional happiness. So far, I find myself paranoid that I am going to inevitably have a miscarriage. This paranoia has increased since I have been spotting in weeks 5 and 6. Each time I go to the bathroom and see spotting, it's a devastating blow which leads to wild unanswered questions. I wonder if I have already miscarried. Am I still even pregnant? I haven't really had any real pregnancy symptoms. If I miscarry undetected, how long would it take a pregnancy test to say "not pregnant"?
I've Googled so many things like "spotting during pregnancy" "painless miscarriages" and "% of women that spot during pregnancy". This might all make me feel better if there were someone I could talk to. I've already made my doctor's appointment, but doctors don't typically see you until 9 or 10 weeks pregnant. My 1st appointment is 2 weeks away and it seems like a lifetime to wait.
I've decided not to tell my family until after the first doctor's appointment. I want to make sure that the baby is alive and fine before I tell them. I probably won't tell the general public until my 1st trimester is over. That would be in mid-August.
So I carry around this big secret that only Javier and I know. He's been helpful to talk to but it doesn't take the place of your mother or sister or any woman who has been pregnant before. I think I may need a support group for this.
This past weekend was Father's day, and the family reunited at my Dad's house. We carried on so normally that I almost forgot that I was even pregnant. My dad couldn't stop talking about our recent trip to Japan & China, Stephanie had come back from Vegas and had a small hangover, and Will was catching a cold. I worried that I should not catch his cold, but it would be difficult because we live in the same house.
Javier was not able to attend the get-together, but my mother passed me his Father's day gift, because he is already a father. The gift was in a bag with the image of a dog all over it. My parents love to find pictures of my dog's breed and pull them out of magazines, etc. Inside was a shirt and a framed picture of a dog wearing glasses that read, "We had to get rid of the kids because the dog was allergic". I quietly laughed at the irony of the picture - they have no idea.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

American Dreams




06/14/09

I’m sitting here on the floor in the sunroom of a luxury Victorian home in San Francisco that is undergoing a remodel. I’m staring at the beautiful antique wooden vanity missing its mirror. I obviously find myself in this home because it’s one of Javier’s projects. The house is worth around $5 million and owned by a young man who is probably not over 30 years old. I’ve come to this project a couple of times and caught glimpses of the owner. He’s always wearing sporty gear, including his sunglasses, shorts, and running shoes. Last week we stopped by for an additional estimate, and Javier took Qori with him while I stayed in the car. Rob, the owner was there with his own dog, a long-legged black female poodle, and Qori met her. After a few minutes, due to rowdiness, Qori and the female dog were banished to the outside of the house so their dads could focus on the objective of their meeting. From the car, I watched the dynamics between Qori and the female dog; Qori couldn’t have been the least bit interested in her.
Rob is a married man, and has a little daughter. Each time that Javier brings me to the project, I start to imagine a happy family living in it. The daughter’s room is being furnished with an animal theme and the walls have been painted with special chalkboard paint so that she can write on the walls. While I can’t understand the concept that the designers have in mind for the entire house (there are many things that are not to my taste in this house such as pink walls, leopard-print stair carpet, and very dramatic wall-paper) nonetheless, the house will still be someone’s home; someone’s American Dream.
While my own house is nowhere near $5 million, maybe not even 15% of that now due to the economic crisis, I’m still happy to have it. Even more so now that Javier helped us remodel the 1st floor. But as I sit here staring around at Rob’s dream and the memories that he will create here, I can’t help but feel excited for my own little dream that is now coming true.


Two days ago, I found out that I was pregnant. Javier and I have been trying to have a child since we got married almost 3 years ago. Before the US was hit with the economic crisis, before the US ever even thought it would ever have a black president, we were trying to have a baby. During that time, I learned a lot about my body, the lunar cycle, and how conception works. We officially became an infertile couple trying to have a baby, and began diagnostics procedures. The diagnostics came out that we were free of the typical obstacles that unfertile couples usually face. Though through the months, I realized that Javier’s swimmers were a little slow, while my paved roads may have been a little complex for them. We tried artificial insemination 3 times, took a break, and tried once more. We were bracing ourselves for the next step: In-vitro. Unfortunately, the next step would come with a hefty price tag: at least $12,000. Up to this point, we had been lucky because my insurance covered the inseminations.
We were healing from what the economic crisis had done to us, and gone were the days where Javier and I could spend $12,000 on something that still only gave us a 50% chance. I felt horrible that money was standing in our way and tried to justify how a couple that could not really afford to have in-vitro, could possibly be ready for a baby. Let’s put it this way, during our trying times, I read a lot of blogs and stories written by unfertile couples. It really made me realize that when the gift is bestowed upon you, you are truly blessed. And you can’t let time pass you by, economic crisis or not.
So we put this dream on hold until Javier could get more stable in his projects. The past 4 months have flown by. During that time period, a Swiss company bought out my company and all my stocks were forced to cash out. I also got some tax return money. This caused me to second-think a trip to Japan & China that my dad had been planning for the past 6 months. I talked to Javier and told him that I was willing to pay for the two of us to go to Asia with my parents. While it would be a $6000 investment, I truly believed that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had no idea the magnitude of this opportunity at the time, but now looking at my calendar, there is a very high likelihood that we conceived during the first couple of days in Japan. So you can probably say that I got a good deal or maybe even two deals: 2 for 1, and 50% off!
So after returning from our trip I kept a close eye on my calendar tracker. The first day of my missed period, I didn’t really think anything of it. Years of tracking my days, it was normal for me to be 2 days late. Only once before was I 5 days late. I waited until I was 6 days late before I truly started to believe that I might be pregnant. You may wonder why I didn’t just take a test on the 1st day of my missed period. The truth is that being disappointed so many times, I just felt like peeing on that stick was jinx and bad luck. I just didn’t want to be disappointed.
I had one stick left and decided that I would use it now. Javier was in a semi-bad mood and wanted me to order food from the Outback, our favorite restaurant. I peed on the stick and called the Outback to put in my order. For a split-second I forgot about the test while talking to the Outback guy on the phone. But my eyes glanced over to the test as I was telling him the type of car we had for the pickup.
I noticed there were 2 lines, one fainter than the other. Honestly, at that moment, I didn’t remember what that meant. I’d taken more ovulation tests than pregnancy tests in the past, and the ovulation tests required that your line be of equal or more darkness than the indicator line: therefore there was always a fainter line for the ovulation test.
Once I got off the phone I opened the test guide pamphlet and saw that 1 line=not pregnant, 2=pregnant. So I was pregnant?! But why was one line fainter than the other? Did that mean I was probably pregnant, or did that mean I was pregnant for sure? I went online and Googled images of other people’s pregnancy tests. Everybody’s tests had one fainter line, but it was the right one instead of the left one like mine. After reviewing many online photos, I was convinced the darker line was my line and the fainter line was the indicator line. Judging by the fact that my line was way darker than the reference, I was totally preggers! Everyone else’s line was fainter because they probably took their tests on the first day of their missed period, instead of waiting a whole week like I did.
The next day, after having brunch with an old high school friend, I immediately went to buy some more tests. I bought a different brand and type. This time it was one of those cool digital tests that simply read “Pregnant” or “Not Pregnant” on the LCD screen. According to the funny commercials on TV, it would be the most sophisticated state of the art technology – that you could ever pee on. I watched the screen as the hourglass was blinking and finally it concluded “Pregnant”. Seeing that word on the screen instead of typical 2 lines made such a psychological difference. I got nervous and queasy for a moment.
You can imagine the types of thoughts I’ve been having since. Should I change my diet? I need to schedule a dr. appt. Who is this little person going to be when he/she grows up? Is it a boy or a girl? Could it be twins? How long do I have to wait to tell people? How am I going to tell people? At what point is the risk of a miscarriage lower? Are my tight pants bothering the baby when I sit down? Does Qori know that I’m pregnant? It’s apparent that I don’t know the first thing about being pregnant.
Javier is happy and caught off guard at this news. He – like me – was not expecting to be pregnant “so soon” or so quickly. We had both sort of convinced ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to get pregnant this year either. Now he has increased pressure. We are here on Sunday at the Victorian house and he is wall-papering while I spend time with him. While Rob and his family are anxious to begin their new dreams, we are too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Bullet Train

SHIRLEY'S JAPAN JOURNAL - 05/27/09

We left Tokyo in the morning and boarded the bullet train to Kyoto. We boarded the Nozumi, which was the fastest direct line. I really thought it would be more exciting than it actually was. It ended up being not much different than a ride on BART (the bay area rapid transit system). It took us almost 2 hours to reach Kyoto and we had the day free. We got to know our new hotel, the city, and decided to get lost on the train system again to "get to know the area".





We got hungry in the city and were looking for a good restaurant. Unfortunately, we could only seem to find 2 restaurants. There had to be more. As we walked down the blocks we passed various subway entrances with a big sign that read "Porta". We thought that was the name of the subway so we kept going. Finally, we noticed that the sign for "Porta" included pictures of food. My dad said he'd go down into the subway and investigate. Maybe there was a hidden underground mall here too.

My dad emerged with a great big smile on his face. He said we wouldn't believe it but there was so much hustle and bustle down there that it was more alive than on the actual streets. And there were plenty of foods and shops. We all laughed at ourselves. The Japanese had duped us again!

Note: this is the end of my japan journal. I got too caught up in China and didn't write any entries :)

Here are some China photos though:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Leisure Day - Seizure Day

SHIRLEY'S JAPAN JOURNAL - 05-29-09

This was the most worrisome day for me. It would be the day that we had no tours, no support, and no guidance. It was just us, our non-existent grasp of the Japanese language, and Tokyo. We had breakfast in a small cafe and ventured into the subway. Earlier we had found that if we were to take Taxis as our main mode of transport, our funds would be depleted rather quickly.

Into the subway we went. We wanted to go back to Asakusa for souvenir shopping and then to Shibuya, so that I could buy some requested hair grease for a friend's husband. The subway experience was far from fun for me, though as I look back on it now it will be a fond memory. First, we got on the wrong line many times because it was difficult to read the maps and understand the setup. Second because as soon as we boarded the subways, my father and Javier immediately started taking pictures of each other, making it blatantly obvious that they wanted the Japanese people in their background.



We made it to Asakusa but had almost depleted half our day. We walked around, bought many trinkets, and took many photos. Next we would need to make it across town to Shibuya. I was armed with only a map and the store name "Tokyu hands" where I could buy the hair grease for my friend's husband. We jumped back on the subway, but hadn't gotten any better at understanding the subway system. Several wrong stops later, we finally made it to Shibuya. I was tired and was hoping that Tokyu hands would be within walking distance. Unfortunately it was not. By then I was so tired that I told my family that I was willing to pay for a taxi however long the distance was. We found a taxi and luckily it was not so expensive.
I walked into Tokyu Hands to find that it was a 7-story department store. I was told that I could probably find the Cool Grease on floor 3B. As I walked up the stairs, my heart started to beat from anxiety.
What if we had come all the way here, and there was no Cool Grease? Then what? I tried not to think about it. I made it to the right floor and walked around.
There it was like the sun's rays breaking through the clouds. Cool Grease in all kinds of colors and sizes. I grabbed the hardest one I could find (I assumed the XX meant that it was 2wice as strong).
Upon leaving Tokyu hands, my father joked that I should charge my friend the cost of transportation to get here. I just laughed. My family had been troopers for coming with me all this way for some hair grease.

We were hungry so we decided to walk around to see if we could find a nice place to eat. On the map I noticed that Shibuya was very close to Harajuku, which is a place known for Japanese fashion. I was hoping I would catch glimpses of the street fashion. Shibuya was a nice shopping district and it had an almost eerie resemblance to Union Square in San Francisco. At one point I would've sworn I was back in SF if it had not been for the Japanese characters on all the signs. There I noted a lot of young girls in Japanese fashion outfits - an urban look with knee-highs, skirts, and dirty blonde (obviously died) hair. They were all so beautiful and well put together and maintained. I was really beginning to like Japanese fashion.
We were sort of tricked into eating dinner at an expensive restaurant. That, and we had no alternative since this was a pricey part of town. It was dusk when we left the restaurant and there were significantly more people walking the streets - probably because it was after work hours. We made it to a large intersection which included tall buildings and flat jumbo screens. We were on the corner waiting at a red light when we glanced all the way across the street and noticed that the number of people waiting at the red light was getting so large that it seemed like a large spectator crowd. Looking back at our side, we realized that we were also part of a large spectator crowd. There must've been hundreds or even thousands of people, and yet no significant event occurring. This was just normal.

Everyone was so considerate, that no one dared cross the street until the light turned green. When it did so, we didn't move. We merely stood there in astonishment as we saw two big crowds of people coming towards each other and converging in mid-street. My father's eyes widened and he looked like a kid in a candy store. Both Javier and my dad started snapping pictures of themselves among the "organized chaos". We spent a ridiculous amount of time at that intersection, basking in the spectacle. By the time we were ready to try and take the subway back home, my dad's message to my friend had suddenly changed.
"Tell your friend I said thank you." he said smiling.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

SHIRLEY'S JAPAN JOURNAL - 05/25/09

We awoke refreshed from our long trip the day before. Although it was still 2pm May 24th in California, I live by the Chinese Proverb, "Wherever you go, you are there", therefore it was 6 am May 25th, my Dad's 60th birthday. It's weird for me to say that because he neither looks nor acts like what I would expect from a typical 60 year old. His hair has whitened, but I consider it only moderately.

So we wished my father a happy birthday and went around the block in search of breakfast. Somehow we Americans ended up at a McDonald's. We got a little confused because we thought the McDonald's had both a register outside facing the street, as well as inside if you wanted to dine in. After entering the McDonald's it was evident that we had to go back outside and order first.

I looked around and knew this was going to be another stressful meal for me so I prepared myself. The restaurant was semi-filled and all the customers were once again Japanese men in business suits quietly eating their Micky D's. As we ate our breakfast my stress began. Even my mother seemed concerned by "Shhhhhshing" my father occasionally when he got a decibel too loud.

But even she, after awhile seemed to loosen up and get a little loud herself during conversations. You know you're bad when even your mother - the woman who is famous for being a worry-wart - is even less concerned than you. So I got myself together and just dealt with it again.

The streets were calm, quiet, and peaceful even though there were cars, it seemed as if each auto had been stripped of a horn at the manufacturing plant. This was far different than my recent vacation in Peru. There were a few Japanese business men walking the streets or even riding their bicycles to work (the old-school bikes with the basket in front). Javier commented how one would never see that in Peru, due to pride. I just thought to myself how incredibly "green" (environmentally friendly) that was.
Directly in front of the McDonald's was the street entrance to the subway. My dad commented on it, and Javier quickly suggested that we go down. Going into the subway station felt like any other subway station, other than the lack of homeless asking you for money and the fact that everything was clean and immaculate. I would later come to realize that I never caught a gross smell while walking in the city. The only scents I would catch in the breeze were fragrances such as cologne, flowers, or shampoo. Another significant difference was the quiet (can you feel a theme?). There were only a couple of people in the subway area who weren't verbose of course and only the sound of an incoming train. We looked around at the maps and the ticket machines. Suddenly an influx of people were walking towards us - predominantly Japanese business men no doubt from the incoming train. It seemed as if there were 100 of them, but once again it was a tranquil influx. I will never forget what my ears heard and my eyes saw because I felt like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. What was audible was only the soft shuffling of 100 pairs of shoes (not even a pitter-patter, just a soft shuffle). Before me were 100 men in black with suitcases all coming at once. The silence, combined with the occasional man in black wearing a surgical face mask was so awkward for me that all I could do was take it all in and process it later. Even now, I don't think I processed it fully.
After that experience, our next experience would be our first and only tour in Tokyo. The Tokyo Morning Tour. We assembled with a group of other tourists and boarded one of those huge sight-seeing buses. Our tour guide was barely understandable. But I learned that his name was Shima and it meant "island". I wondered about my high school friend's little sister, Shima. They were Hindu; did it mean "island" in their language as well? Shima also taught us that "mon" means "gate" and showed us the Japanese character for gate. My mind immediately went to the Japanese cartoon, Pokemon. Did that mean Poke-gate? Then what does Poke mean? My ignorance was evident in the thoughts I was having as Shima-san spoke.
We went to several places on our morning tour. The Tokyo tower was like a Japanese version of the Eiffel Tower only according the Shima-san it was 10 meters taller. We entered the tower and got a nice view of the city, although it was quite overcast. Next we went to a place called Otemachi. I have to admit I'm still not sure what it was. There were many gates, but it was closed for the day so we could only walk around and enjoy the beautiful Japanese landscapes. I think that the emperor's family lived there. We went to a nice little market and Temple called Asakusa, though we didn't have enough time to shop, we knew we would need to come back to this place for souvenirs. Finally, we went to a part of town called Ginza. Shima said this was a very expensive shopping district. Our last stop was within Ginza in a place called Takadashi Pearl Factory. When I first found out we would be stopping at a pearl factory, I told Javier that I should buy myself a Pearl.
Many years ago, Javier was tricked into buying me a beautiful set of pearls during our trip to Hawaii off of one of those oyster stands. They were pink pearls and in total I got 3, a necklace and earrings. Sadly, I only wore them once before I lost them. To this day I truly believe that they are still somewhere in my old room at my parent's house.
Although I thought my beloved pink Hawaiian pearls were irreplaceable, I thought that a Japanese pearl would be even better. When we entered the pearl factory, we were asked to pick a numbered chip out of a basket. I hoped there would be a pearl give-away so I placed my hand over the basket and felt for the energy. I felt the most energy from chip #33, so I grabbed it. We sat down and a lady began her demonstration of how a pearl is made. During her demonstration, she showed us a heart-shaped pearl that they had recently been able to create. It was attached as a pendant on a sliver necklace. She immediately asked me to take center stage and placed the necklace on me; a great marketing move. She said I could wear it for the rest of the demo. Now Javier felt obligated to buy it, and the rest of our tour group wasn't shy to state this fact. During the demonstration, Javier kept whispering excuses that I should use at the end of the demonstration for why we would not purchase the necklace. "Tell her I already bought you one, tell her that you don't like it, tell her... etc." I thought it was funny, and the truth is that although beautiful, silver is not my color and it truly wasn't my style. Though the price tag was not as bad as I thought at a bit over $217.
The lady called on another woman to pick a live oyster from the bucket. She proceeded to open the oyster to see what was inside. She said it was a pink pearl, though it looked pretty white to me. Everyone in the group "ooooo'd" and "ahhhhh'd" as she held it up to the light.
"Now let's see who will win this pearl by playing with this digital Bingo game!" she said.
So I was right! A pearl giveaway! I stared at the Bingo screen as the numbers changed. It seemed to land on 52 then changed a few times more before landing back on 52 (I used to have an old Bingo game that would tip you off before it was finished too).
"52?" she yelled. Everyone looked around, but no one had 52. So she pressed the button again. This time the numbers jumbled and stopped at 33 for a second, and that's when I was almost sure I had won. The numbers jumbled once more and in fact did land back at 33! I won! The lady's face did not show too much emotion when she found out I had won; Javier and I had foiled her marketing scheme! Now I have a beautiful pearl that I must make into a necklace eventually.

After the pearl factory, the tour was over. We took Shima-san's recommendation and ended up at a fish market for lunch. One thing we noted while walking around the fish market was that there wasn't a fly in sight; everything was so clean. Unfortunately, none of the restaurants sold cooked fish, so sadly for my mother and I, we would be dining on raw fish.



It actually wasn't so bad. I ordered some type of tuna dish because I figured that since tuna steak doesn't smell fishy when I cook it, it might not taste fishy when I eat it raw. It was a good choice. My mother on the other hand, ordered a salmon dish with caviar, and did not fare so well. Javier and my father were in heaven with all the seafood. They ordered a mix of fish and shellfish.
After the raw lunch we walked around the city a lot and went to Akihabara, the part of town famous for electronics. We walked around for blocks because we read the map wrong and thought that our hotel was nearby. We even passed our hotel and got lost. By then it was nightfall. By the time we found our hotel, we were ready for bed.