Drilling for Oil in Yokohama, Japan
Sunday 22 October 2006, my two-year-old daughter Cornucopia spent part of the afternoon drilling for oil in the desert.
This being Japan, where space is at a premium, it was a titchy little desert, a scrap of sand tucked away in a sidestreet near the supermarket. But it was authentically hot and Cornucopia was out in the sun for a long time.
In the evening, at the dinner table, Cornucopia complained of pain in her eye. Then it turned out that the pain was not actually in her eye but in her head.
My wife is, as a rule, the one who is best at keeping track of my daughter's condition, but on this occasion I easily diagnosed the probable cause of my daughter's distress, naming it as dehydration.
My wife agreed that this was a reasonable supposition and, water having been given, our daughter was soon as right as rain.
My insight into my daughter's condition stemmed not from the rudimentary medical training that I had all those years ago back when I was a part-time medical assistant in the army but from my own experiences with thirst.
Although I survived six cycles of high-dosage chemotherapy, in consequence of which I lived rather than died, the chemo seems to have trashed my body chemistry. I start feeling thirsty any time I am put under stress and I feel a need to drink water through the day.
I generally start the day by drinking two large mugs of tea at breakfast time. I always get into the same carriage at the station, and get off at Waniguchi Station precisely where the drinking fountain is. As a matter of routine, I drink sixteen mouthfuls of water, this when I get off the train at 0925.
Before I start teaching my first class at 1000, I drink another six mouthfuls of water. And, after each 40-minute lesson, I routinely plunge into the toilet to get another six mouthfuls of faucet water from the basin.
Just in case, I carry around a bottle of drinking water.
While my daughter was wild catting in the desert, seeking oil, my wife used my water bottle to transport water from a nearby public drinking fountain to the hole in which my daughter's oil rig was set up.
The rig was not hers. Rather, it had been abandoned by some rich kid (by global standards all kids in Japan are rich) and it was a pretty neat toy. The idea is that there's oil in whatever hole you're prospecting for (with water standing in if mum doesn't have cans of oil she can pour into the hole) and, all going well, the theory of the toy seems to be that you should successfully pump oil (or its substitute, water) out of the sand.
But all Cornucopia's pumping resulted in nothing, because the portion of Japan's potable water supply that we were pouring into the desert vanished tracelessly into the sands.
Before tackling the day's oil explorations, we ate at a ramen restaurant, "ramen" being noodles. This was about Cornucopia's fifth restaurant experience (though on one of the four earlier occasions she had slept right through the meal, so that one doesn't really count) and, this time, she did not do gauche things like crawl under the table.
My wife had purchased a ticket for a child's meal from the restaurant's ticket vending machine so the waiter offered Cornucopia a choice of orange juice or apple juice. Without hesitation, she chose the apple.
The waiter then offered her a basket of toys, cars and trucks in plastic packages, and she chose one to keep, choosing decisively, pretty much instantaneously. Chose a truck with a crane on the back.It wasn't an elite toy truck, but I thought it was pretty good for a giveaway freebie.
On the way home, we stopped at the park which has the really big slide, or, in Japanese, "suberidai." Cornucopia played there for a while then we pushed on to our destiny in the oil drilling business.
While wife and daughter were at work in the sun of what had become a genuinely hot day, I, urged by my wife to get out of the sun, took a seat on a shaded bench. There I saw a truck lying discarded in the sand. Cornucopia's brand new truck? No, some other kid's truck, a perfectly good toy neglectfully discarded.
The discarding, intentional or otherwise, of an affluent society.
A married couple I know found themselves living up to the Nepali stereotype of the affluent Western tourist when they, absent mindedly, discarded a perfectly good high-quality camera when they wandered off leaving it sitting on a touristic rock beside a trail somewhere in the Nepal Himalaya.
The discarded truck by the microdesert here in Japan was, whether purposeful or neglectful, a symptom of the kind of affluence demonstrated by the camera-discarding.
That got me to thinking about this kid that Madonna wants to adopt from Africa. Apparently there's been a bit of a stink about it from human rights organizations.
I can see why, from the point of view of political correctness, this is a no-no. Rich white woman from an affluent country goes to a poor country and hijacks a kid (presumably a black kid) straight out of that country.
But, thinking about that, as I sat in the park, I found that I was on Madonna's side.
Although I have forgotten the name of the country, the name of the presumably black kid and the name of the kid's father, I did read about the situation in the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE recently, and it seems that the father is in favor of the deal.
The father, a poor man, was left without childcare help when his wife died, and decided that his son's best option was to be consigned to the local orphanage, where the child has been languishing ever since.
The father thinks it would be good for his son if his son was to be adopted by Madonna. And the father asks: where were all these human rights people when his son was sitting in the orphanage? Who was concerned about his son's fate then?
Thinking about this situation, if I was the impoverished father of a motherless child in a brutally poor nation somewhere in Africa, and if my son had the opportunity to grow up in the household of a middle-aged millionaire, I'd want my son to end up growing up in Madonna's household.
And if I was the son then I'd want that option for myself.
And if my own daughter were to face the bleak prospect of growing up in a Japanese orphanage or being adopted into Madonna's household, then I'd want her, too, to be taken in by Madonna.
Madonna is not a kid. She's a woman who has entered into her middle age, and I'm sure she knows the difference between buying a cute puppy dog from the local pet shop and taking on the responsibilities of a kid.
In fact, I think it's a gutsy thing for Madonna to do, and I hope, if only for the sake of the father of this kid otherwise destined to grow up in an orphanage in Africa, that Madonna's plan pans out for her.
So that's part of what I thought about on our family Sunday, the world for the moment at peace, and our lives, it seems, on track.
The last time we drank wine, which was either Friday or Saturday (my memory is really terrible) my wife made a toast.
"We survived," was the toast.
I have not been keeping track, but it seems that we have been back in Japan for six months. And, yes, it seems that we have indeed survived.
A closing note on a medical issue. I've written in this blog entry about my own recurrent thirst in the aftermath of chemotherapy. I have a reason for this thirst. My body was poisoned, deliberately and systematically, and for a long time, and consequences of one kind or another are to be expected.
For people who are otherwise in good health, however, and who have not been chemically damaged, it should be noted that unexplained and persistent thirst is sometimes symptomatic of diabetes. Something, then, that should be taken to the doctor and checked out.