I’m sitting here thinking back on twenty years ago today. I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel strange that twenty years have passed. On the other hand, there will be adults today who weren’t even born then. That feels just as strange.
I was at home, at my house in Hounanchou, where I lived before moving to Shinkoiwa in 2007. It was evening, and I was tired and getting ready to go to sleep. I was in the living room. Tao was sleeping on the floor. The TV was off. A friend at that time, Murao-san, was visiting and was upstairs on my computer.
He called down for me to turn on the TV. This was after the first tower was hit, and before people really knew what was happening.
My sleepiness vanished. The 2nd tower was hit and it was obvious there was an attack. While trying to follow the news, I went upstairs to my computer and tried to access the CNN site. It took a long time to come up, and it was chilling to see the bare bones page there.
It was still early in the morning across the U.S., and nobody really knew the extent of what was happening, how many cities would be hit. I called and woke up my parents in Columbia, MO and told them to watch the news. They were shocked. I phoned my former boss in San Francisco, waking him up, and suggesting he may want to leave the city. After all, nobody knew.
I feel teary-eyed even now as I think of the horrifying images of people leaping from the top of the World Trade Center to escape the inferno behind them.
I remember sending an email to the State Department offering my services in any intelligence operations they may need. I never got a reply, but that’s how I was feeling then about what happened. If there was anything I could do…
We all know how things changed after that. The tight security at airports. Before 9/11 security was so loose I could travel with a Swiss Army knife and all they would do was take it out of my pocket, put it in my backpack and request I not take it out of the backpack during the flight.
And then endless wars. Wars that are perhaps just ending now. Memories of Buddhist priests outside train stations beating drums softly, protesting against war.
9/11. New York. The Pentagon. United 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. The skies being cleared of all air traffic. Friends and colleagues who were on flights letting me know where they were stranded. The air traffic controllers chilling radio communications. The last messages from passengers on the flights reaching out to loved ones. Friends in New York contacting me to let me know they were ok. A cousin who was on his way to a meeting at the WTC letting me know he missed it. Endless circles and mazes of events that linger in our memories to this day, as I sit here at home on 9/11/2021 thinking about it.
Hoping for a peaceful world and a better future for all.
The Olympics and Paralympics have now ended. In the midst of escalating coronavirus infections, Tokyo decided to carry on after the main Olympics and, by all accounts, the very important Paralympics were a big success. It’s been a controversial, emotional, confusing, fascinating, memorable and, I think, worthwhile experience. I’m glad to see that the infection rates are now dropping after reaching a peak recently.
Having lived more than half my life in Japan, I often feel like giving something back. So I undertook this much longer-than-expected journey to be a volunteer for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics back in early 2019. As we all know, much has transpired in the world since then; it feels like another era. Here is a short diary of my time with the Olympics.
In March of 2019, I attended “volunteer orientation day” at the Olympics headquarters. They were very organized and had everything scheduled so people got a chance to mingle and try some “team activities,” followed by interviews, ID checks, and a photoshoot op. It was then I learned that while we say “Tokyo Twenty-Twenty” in English, in Japanese everybody said, “Tokyo Ni-Zero Ni-Zero” (Ni=Two).
November 15, 2019 – Olympics Training
I attended what was to be the last in-person training session, at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in the Sangubashi neighborhood, near Shinjuku.
I hadn’t been to that neighborhood before. It’s just two stops from Shinjuku (three minutes) but a world of difference. It’s much quieter, with some nice hills and interesting shops and restaurants.
The Olympics Center itself is huge, but aging. It was built after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
There was lots of talk about diversity and disabilities. People could take out their smartphones and tablets, and using a QR code connect to a real-time Q&A system. They would periodically ask us to guess answers to questions or ask our opinions about something, and the results would show up in histograms on the big front screen in real time. I wonder if there are systems like that in classrooms in the U.S. It’s certainly better than a show-of-hands count (there were 300 people in my session).
I was a member of what is called the “Field Cast”— people who go out in the field and help at events, help with athletes, and things like that. People who act as guides around the city and at stations were part of the “City Cast.”
2020 – Everything Happened
After that, so many things started happening, and it became unclear how the Olympics would proceed. During the initial outbreak, we quickly switched to completely online training sessions. And eventually, the Olympics were postponed a year and we went into a hiatus of sorts, with little information other than a request to confirm our desire to participate. It still was not clear whether waiting a year would return things to normal or, as it turned out, not.
The rest of 2020 is a blur, with lockdowns of nursing homes in Japan as well as the U.S., the passing of my mother at age 93 in Boston, and a dear friend here in Japan at age 100, shortages of supplies due to rumors, a boom in online education and work, closing of outdoor venues, strict anti-viral protocols, and the election going on in the U.S.
April 24, 2021 – Japan Declares Virus Emergency
On the same day I received my venue assignment and volunteer schedule, Japan declared a virus emergency as COVID-19 continued to spread rapidly, and almost nobody had been vaccinated yet. I was assigned to the Oi Hockey Stadium for seven days, as part of the Event Services Team. At the time I had no idea what hockey was, except for ice hockey.
May 17, 2021 – Credentials and Uniform
It was finally the scheduled time to pick up my Tokyo 2020 Olympics credentials, uniform, and other gear. The location was at the former south wing of the Hotel Okura in Kamayacho on the Hibiya Line.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the extremely careful corona-prevention procedures were impressive. Not only temperature checking and disinfecting and social distancing, but lots of shielding and wearing gloves, plus everybody had reserved times to come so you weren’t close to anybody at any time. It was huge gigantic empty halls and roped passages.
July 4, 2021 – Venue Training
On July 4 I went to the Oi Hockey Stadium for venue training. The Olympics were right around the corner, and it was still not completely decided whether they were going to hold them or cancel. And the decision to cancel spectators had not yet been made. So much of what we learned that day got upended at the last minute.
We did take a tour and saw all the “pitches” (I was not the only volunteer to have never seen a hockey game before), and where all the restrooms, baby care stations, rest areas, the volunteer’s meal area (we get daily meal vouchers), and even the prayer tent were.
July 13, 2021 – Spectators Banned
Other volunteers for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics I’ve spoken with had not yet heard what was to become of us since spectators in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures had just been banned. I already finished my venue training at the Oi Hockey Stadium and was scheduled to participate July 24-28 and August 3-4. But rumors were that we should expect some sort of cancelation notice, or suggestion of reassignment of some kind.
All overseas volunteers already had their assignments canceled, and thousands of domestic volunteers also got canceled after the spectator decision. My schedule was cut back to just four days.
July 27, 2021 – Some Scenes from Volunteer Days
Here are just a few scenes from volunteering at the Oi Hockey Stadium to give you an idea of what it was like. The empty stadiums lent an unreal feeling to the experience.
July 28, 2021 – United in Emotion, With My Volunteer Group
Even though there was almost nobody there to help, our volunteer group seemed to enjoy our work. We got along together very well. I helped a few people, members of the “Olympic Family” get around, and was asked to take a few pictures for some visitors.
Here is our group at the end of the day. While it wasn’t the exact same people every day, there was a large overlap, so a core of us got to know each other.
August 7, 2021 – Final Volunteer Days
My last volunteer day at the Oi Hockey Stadium came to an end. The whole volunteer team seemed to bond and we were feeling weepy when it was over. Because there were no spectators, there wasn’t a lot to do, but somehow we felt like we were busy all day rotating between shifts and visiting different locations at the site.
They even had us in spectator shifts to cheer on the women’s hockey teams. I got to actually sit and watch Great Britain versus the Netherlands for a while and saw two goals and got to meet IOC Vice President John Coates and some “team family” members.
I will forever be grateful for the experience, and to the other members of our volunteer team. The theme of the Olympics was “United in Emotion” and we all created special bonds and memories that will last through time.
In the footnotes are links to more blog posts with many more photos of the experience, including volunteer operations and Olympics swag.
I was listening to that Otis Redding song last night on my iPhone. Pao was sleeping on the floor next to me. Pao is 1 year 9 months old now and “getting better” except for leaping after motorcycles, which I can’t control yet. I have my office all Pao-proofed so he can hang out with me in here now during the day, which seems to relax him.
At the end of the song when Redding is whistling the last part Pao jumped up and came over and stared at the iPhone. He did that dog thing where they cock their head back and forth like they are curious about something and trying to understand. He was doing it in rhythm to Redding’s whistling!
I was able to replicate it later, but the next time he didn’t jump up. I’ll try to take a video next time. It was sort of cute.
I guess that’s officially Pao’s favorite song now (after “Hush little Pao, don’t say a word, Doug is gonna buy you a mockingbird… which I use to calm him down from a barking fit).
As mentioned before, I’m not really trying to lose any more weight. On the other hand, I don’t want to gain weight either, of course. I’m trying to “coast to a safe landing” and maintain. My weight continues to very very slowly go down though. Like really slowly. Even though I’m also incrementally adding calories.
I think part of the reason might be that I simply have lots more energy lately! I find myself walking more, and walking faster. I generally feel quite good.
Anyway, my new weight, as of this morning is 65.4 kg = 144 lb, a total weight loss of 63.6 kg = 140 lb and an all-time low adult weight for me! My BMI is down to 21.6. I’ve lost 49.3% of my original weight.
My blood sugar dropped over time from a dangerously high HbA1c of 11.8 to a perfectly normal 5.4, and I’ve been off blood sugar meds for nearly two years now. I eat lots of carbs every day, including potatoes, veggies, and several fruits. My cholesterol is “heart attack proof” low. My blood pressure is about 106/59. My doctor is very pleased. I do need to do some more resistance training though to add muscles.
As my friends know, in addition to logging calories in MyFitnessPal (calories count whether you count them or not), I eat WFPB (Whole Food Plant Based), which is basically vegan + no oil. No intermittent fasting.
For easy weight control while eating WFPB, I stick to lower calorie density foods. I try to limit added sugars and salts, but do have them in small amounts. For more on what I eat, here is a post from earlier this year: https://lerner.net/oh-boy-doug-food-again/
I recommitted to WFPB (Whole Food Plant Based) in September of 2018, after being inspired by Dr. Greger’s guidelines in “How To Not Die.” I also follow additional recommendations for comfortable, sustainable weight loss from people like Chef AJ, Potato Strong, and Plant Based Gabriel, with some tweaks of my own.
I did finally buy new shirts and things. An ordinary Japanese L size, which is comfortably loose on me.