Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Parting words perhaps.

I regret to inform you that I can no longer regularly update Single White Gaijin. The title no longer reflects my position in life, as I've returned to a fairly normal bohemian lifestyle in Bloomington, Indiana. The small instances of Culture Shock are actually a formerly common feature of my American life. I've always hated rude people, and I've always been a little disturbed/disgusted by American supermarkets (I think I'll forever exile myself from anything resembling a Walmart Supercenter).

My life is picking up, and I'm fully (perhaps over) employed. A few days a week at a record store, and few days a week at a coffeeshop. I have all these newly acquired Hipster Points, but I'm not entirely sure where they're redeemable.

Of course, I'm still trying to wrangle my stuff from the Japanese company, and the two American companies they've sent me through. I've sent about 30 emails, and have gotten very little accomplished. I'm seriously considering just giving up on my right to my packages, and letting them be destroyed or impounded, or whatever. On the one hand, it's sad to let some of my most prized possessions go by the wayside on account of an incredible amount of money. On the other, stuff is just stuff. The real treasures from my time in Japan are all tucked safely into my heart and my mind. And I won't ever lose those, and they'll never get frayed at the edges and worn from use. So, when I step back and consider which mementos are likely to gather dust, as I shift them from closet to closet, and which will just glow more radiantly as time goes by, the decision does not seem as tough.

That's not to say that I'm giving up just yet.

Things are weird at home; my parents are having some serious financial trouble, and are scrambling to hold on to the house (well, if you can call it scrambling), my closest aunt was just diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, my younger brother ran away (I assume still unaccounted for; my parents didn't tell me he ran away until two weeks after the fact, so you never know), another brother was just divorced from his wife of two years, etc. It's strange to jump right back into a life that hasn't slowed or stopped since you've been gone. That's all I can think to say about that.

I started this blog in an attempt to round out my experience and finish my record of it. Instead, I just left another update. Maybe that's the best way to end it. And, then again, maybe that's not the end at all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

London Calling, London Drinking, London Sleeping.

We left France via the Chunnel. Which ... is apparently not what they call it in either the UK or France. But, anyway, we met some nice actor named Chioke on the train. Oh, and we went first class because the tickets for some bizarre reason were the same price as coach. That meant we were offered champagne. Champagne. I had a beer instead.

Anyway, we got into London and stayed in a hostel for two nights. It was our first experience away from the high-society living, and I really enjoyed it. We met some nice people, the place was clean and felt safe. We did a free walking tour of the West end of London, and later went out on a pub crawl. Joe and I had a great time, we made pretty good friends with a Canadian Dr. who is on his way back from a few months in Tanzania.

I was especially proud of fooling a few people I met that night with fake accents. I told some British guy that I was from New Zealand, and he totally bought it! For like ... hours. And then I tried out my Australian accent on a few Aussies, and they bought it ... for a few minutes. But, still, that's a pretty good step up for me. Last year, I couldn't have even told one from the other.

We got really drunk and had a great time until we ended up at some dance club. Man, I always thought I didn't like those places - now I'm positive. I guess to be honest, I was having a good enough time until everyone else paired off with a girl - even Joe. I just got so bored and sick of pretending to dance that I took off. Joe met some nice lady (who went by the name of "Dream" ... I'm positive that wasn't her real name) and stayed out til about sunrise. I was powerfully hungover the next day, but we managed to get out to Wolverhampton to see my friend Alan. He's such a nice dude. It's funny how I only really met him two times - once in Hiroshima and once again in Tokyo - but I feel like he's a dude of mine. Like, if he needed a favor and I could help him out, I'd jump to do it. And he's definitely helping us out by letting us stay.

Though, I must say that the Black Country is not as tourist-friendly as London. We had a good time last night at two local pubs, and had a good chat with the owners of the Ace of Spades Pub, Penny and Andy. Today, though, we were going to go to the Black Country Living Museum - you know the kind, a bunch of dudes in a village pretending it's two hundred years ago. I was pretty enthused about it, actually, but the prices were way too high for us. Almost 20 US Dollars for admission is just too much for us.

So, we went for a bit of a walk around Alan's place. But, I was a bit startled. Some young Chavs (British teenage troublemakers) were out for a walk as well, and one of them decided to piss in broad daylight next to the canal, as we walked by on the other side. As we walked away he said "Hey, dickheads, were you looking at me? Were you faggots looking at me?" or something, to which I replied "Uh ... well, I'm looking at you now, because you called me a dickhead. But, I don't even know you, man." I was just so caught off guard by that kind of a thing. I've been in Japan too long! I got used to people just minding to themselves mostly, but I guess I better get used to the occassional angst-ridden youths. *shrug*

Anyway, we watched Blacula this morning, as we did laundry, and now we're watching Scream Blacula Scream. I fucking love Blacksploitation movies.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paris - The city of Love (or Louvre, I forget which…). I admit that my last post was a little severe, and not necessarily a true reflection of how I actually find Paris now. Basically, Joe and I were having little spats following each other around the city with our packs on during the hottest part of the day. After we found the place and began to settle in, we went to look for a nice coffee shop around our hotel. And … basically, I just forgot that in Paris, you need to possibly learn how to speak a little French. It was awkward, I got flustered, and the people at the cafĂ© thought we were a pair of total retards. For a second, I could tell that Joe was maybe hoping I could translate here as well as I did in Japan, but my Jr. High school lessons just wouldn’t return to me that quickly.

I’m happy to say, however, that everything’s come back - and more. After just a few days, I’m finding it fairly easy to order in French, follow basic instructions and other such things. In fact, I think I’m growing into Joe’s image of a translator. One thing that I’ve definitely learned from this trip is how easy the European languages I’ve encountered are to decipher. There are so many cognates, so many similar grammar rules, that essentially they are just strong dialects of the same language - which, they are. As the Roman empire fell (over the course of several hundred years), Latin grew into a regionalized version of the language of Empire. And since I speak fluently a language strongly based upon Latin (for all the words not connected to the day-to-day business of living like mother, brother, cow, pig, etc., but for words expressing complex ideas like constitution, fraternity, legality, etc.), it’s very easy to decipher.

Basically, I’m trying to justify moving to Europe. Which actually might be a great idea. In Amsterdam, speaking Arabic opened a whole window of Holland’s culture. Right now there is a huge cultural clash between the Dutch legacies - those whose Dutch families can be traced to Holland for generations - and the new arrivals - the Africans, Muslims, the racialized “other”. If you remember about the Dutch cartoonist being murdered for printing an image of Mohammed in a satirical comic in a Dutch newspaper, you’ll be familiar with the kinds of strain put on the communities there. The Dutch are hard-line Freedom of Speech supporters, and the new Muslim arrivals feel that some of their culture of Islamic religious rules should follow them.

Anyway, when I spoke Arabic with a guy selling falafel for 2 Euro, he gave me a discount on drinks, and kept saying nice things to me. Undoubtedly, he just felt really happy that, in a country where everyone expects him to learn their language, someone went through the trouble of learning his language. Though, speaking Arabic with shop owners also gave me a strange encounter in a corner store. He was from Iraq, and I could tell from his dialect, so I used a colloquial expression to greet him, and he totally assumed I was US military. He wasn’t exactly angry, but it did get awkward. He said “I’m from the country which your country bombed for 15 years,” and other things. Of course, I took the time to set him straight about how I feel about all that bullshit, but it seemed to blow up into this thing I hadn’t exactly foreseen.

The bottom line, I suppose, is that my Arabic skills have come in handy more often than my meager ability in French. People are almost always surprised and appreciative, and it feels a lot more friendly than the people I try to speak French with. It honestly makes me wonder if there’s not a chance that I might try to live in Amsterdam or Paris, because I could use my Arabic skills to deal with the Muslim communities here. In the same way that Spanish comes in handy working in the US, Arabic will certainly come in handy in Europe in the coming years.

It’s actually been a huge surprise to me, after coming from culturally homogenous Japan, to come to Europe and find it to be far more Muslim, African, and Middle Eastern than I expected. In a way, it obviously makes sense. It’s great that the people aren’t ghettoized, and if I were coming straight from America, I probably wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest. But, coming from the cultural ghetto of Japan, it was quite a shock.

Sadly, however, my trip to Europe hasn’t been the only thing on my mind. Before I left Japan, I gave S-Lan (again, my helper-friend) around 200 US dollars to pay for my moving fees. Due to some Japanese bureaucratic bullshit (as always), payment to the moving company is only accepted from Japanese bank accounts. …Which is bizarre, considering it caters to people who are moving overseas. Anyway, they are charging me 430 dollars more than what I anticipated, and I have to try to send it back to S-Lan as soon as possible. It’s totally frustrating, and I’ve already totally overspent my budget in Europe. So, basically, I have no cushion money at all once I get back to the States. And if I can’t find employment, I might be in a bit of trouble for a while. But, hey, I’ll settle that when I can. It’s just … pretty frustrating. Especially frustrating, when you consider that nothing I own is worth anywhere near 630 dollars. Fuck’s sake…

So, because of overspending the budget, and the extra expenses to get my stuff back to the states, Joe and I are trying to live much more cheaply on the road. So far, so good. But, because of all the nice hotels we’ve been staying it, it’s an interesting mix of high-class hotels and low-class living. As I said before, I think, we were washing our socks in the sink, and hanging them in the glass and marble shower, of the most expensive hotel room we’ve stayed in; somewhere around 500 dollars a night. Last night, we were staying in a 200 Euro a night hotel, and we shared a pack of ramen noodles from two coffee cups. And we used coffee stirrers as forks. And just tonight, after buying some wine, bread, cheese, olives and salami, we looked for a good bench to sit at, but couldn’t find one. When we did find one, it was near a stairwell that smelled like pee, across the street from some fancy eatery, with a beautiful view of a brick wall covered in graffiti. Also, we smell bad.

But, it’s been a lot of fun. Last night, we met some weird girls at the Arc De Triumphe, and we went to the Eiffel Tower together and watched it sparkle at night. They were a little weird, one Aussie and one American girl, about 18 years old or so who were being au pairs in Germany. And today, we were at the Louvre all day, around 8 hours. My dogs are barking, and my legs hurt, but it was totally worth it. I thought that the Louvre might be an old lady museum, but I was totally wrong. It ruled hard. My favorite section was the Greek/Roman sculpture. They had all my favorite emperors, including the hilariously named Pupienus. We leave for London the day after tomorrow. For the moment, we are drinking Unicorn Beer (don’t ask, the French are just weird people), and watching some weird French clip show in the TV before going to sleep. Damn, it feels good to be a gangster.

(This was written on my computer when I wasn't on the internet, then copied and pasted into the Blog. Please forgive any errors, I don't have time to correct them just now.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

So far, Paris is full of jerks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going Dutch.

Yesterday, Joe and I rolled into Amsterdam at three pm local time, after a twelve hour flight. The poor ladies on the plane actually cut us off (unofficially), though we weren't even drunk. Despite our best attempts at being charming to get them to like us again, the "Steward, we need a little something" button remained on for what is likely a world record. Around two hours or so. It was like a cold war, really. Only, hey, the workers really do have all the power. The strike totally broke us; I ended the flight with a tomato juice rather than Heineken.

The worst part was that an hour or so afterwards, the lady next to us (have pity for the poor thing, won't you?) pressed her button and had an attendant immediately. Meh, I guess two unwashed Americans have that effect on stewardesses.

It's so strange to be in Amsterdam, after being in Tokyo. There's good graffiti around, lots of brick architecture, and the people are huge. I am handling it all very well, but there are so many things about Western culture that I'm re-acquainting myself with. I'm picking up some Dutch words, and I'm totally shocked to find that I can mostly comprehend most signs, because of all the English or German cognates.

Also, the morning of our second day, we ran into my friend Sarah outside of a middle eastern restaurant. She's the one person I knew in Amsterdam, the girlfriend of another friend of mine, Tara. And, though we sent a few emails before the trip, we didn't have any solid plans to meet yet. Somehow, in a pretty good-size town, we just ended up running into her on her way to see a museum. It's strange, but I've almost come to expect weird shit like that to happen to me all the time.

In any case, we had a really excellent time today. Red Light District, the Gay Area during the Pride Parade, etc. The Gay Pride stuff was really fun. Granted we only kind of walked through and listened to a transvestite DJ playing dance music, but somehow that seemed like a fun and quirky thing to do.

I would definitely consider Amsterdam as a future living area, if at all possible. It's just like a giant college town, only I guess all the "students" are tourists. Which ... is us. I guess I am learning a lot. ... Just squinting through the haze, really.

I did go to the Van Gogh museum yesterday, and had a good, long look around. Man, that guy fucking loved colors.

My new favorite Van Gogh is, I think, called "Crab on it's back."

Friday, July 31, 2009

Day and Night; or a Duck Tales to be Remembered.

In twelve hours time, I'll be on an airplane headed away from Japan. ...It's difficult to expand in a novel way on that line of thought.

But, things haven't been all butter and happy-go-lucky coincidences: the moving company had some trouble with my things already, though I've sorted that out; my American ATM card wouldn't allow me to access my account, rendering me totally penniless (a harsh recollection of my visit to Vietnam); jumping off a train that was supposed to go to the airport, but terminated early, only to return to the initial station and find out that the direct lines to the airport had ceased for the evening, etc. Lately, I'm just too stressed out to be able to relax. It'll be nice once I'm away from Japan and I'm not translating for Joe all the time, and I don't have to worry about saying goodbye to anyone, finalizing bills, etc. I can just kind of go with the flow and try to be at the airports on time.

Man, I just don't know if I can sigh deeply enough right now. Just like, 20 minutes ago, I totally exploded on Joe because of my ATM card stuff. It always gets me incredibly frustrated, but there usually isn't someone listening to and commenting on my call. And usually, something as important as having enough money to eat for two weeks isn't at stake. Of course, I feel like a total jerk, and I've already apologized. But, I am really pumped to decrease to amount of responsibility I'm currently handling, in all the ways it's coming to me.

I have made a new resolution for the trip. Every time I start to get frustrated about something, I am going to sing the theme song to Duck Tales. Check out the translations, too. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that the Duck Tales theme song is the most translated song in the history of mankind. Somebody, please fact check that. I did already. In my gut.

Tomorrow, I'm going to get very drunk on an airplane, spend 12 hours in the air, and land four hours after takeoff. Eventually, I will be back in America.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bourge joints.

Bourge. As in Bourgeois.

I've finished my ties to the town where I'd lived all year. The rooms are empty, my things are in boxes, somewhere (hopefully) headed to the ocean (at some port). I hope to see them again in a month or two. ...depending on shipping schedules, of course.

Man, I have so much to type, but I'm running on a schedule here. It seems that Joe and I just keep jumping out of moving vehicles, and we always hit the ground running. It's Tokyo, it's morning, it's evening, we're drunk, we're eating, all lights and sounds and (sometimes bizarre) smells. It's sad to think that I've just three more days in Japan at all, but the merry-go-round keeps turning so fast, I can't really focus on any one thing.

And, as far as the Bourge joints goes, it's a bizarre situation. My brother Joe works in a bar in the basement of a hotel. And because his paycheck has some hotel affiliation, he's considered to be a hotel employee. Because of his classification as a friend of the Intercontinental Hotel Corporation, he gets severely discounted rooms. So, yesterday we stayed at a hotel with rooms about 300 dollars a night, and we paid 55. People were calling us sir, everyone was wearing suits, the restaurants in the hotels were minimum of 40 dollars for an appetizer. Basically, it was a terrible capitalist nightmare.

But, the views are amazing. And, really, I feel more like we're scamming these places, almost. On the other hand, as I walked into the four-story lobby (with a CHAMPAGNE BAR on the second floor), wearing my CRASS shirt, carrying everything in a backpack rather than an suitcase, swearing my balls off, I wondered if maybe I'd set on fire. Much to my surprise, I didn't ignite, but I certainly started wondering if there was a place in Hell for a person like me. I can't decide if we're scamming these places, or if we're enjoying the rich life on a normal budget. And, can I lament about the situation of the workers if I've had a Manhattan on the rooftop bar of a 5-star Tokyo hotel?

Or, maybe I'm just thinking a little too much. In three days, that'll probably stop. I'm Amsterdam bound.

(I am extremely sad to be leaving all the friends I made in Japan. I can't yet imagine what my life will be like without them, though I've done some wondering.)

Oh, and one more fucking thing! I am so glad that I don't work for Yoshimi machi's BOE anymore, because my boss, Asshat, is a total shithead. I've complained a lot about them, but by far, the worst thing that they had done was taking advantage of S-Lan's generosity, without ever saying thank you. But, Asshat's gone far beyond that. He called S-Lan to tell her to make sure that I personally thanked L-San for all her help this year. ...I haven't even seen that monstrous woman for 10 months, thank God. I really can't believe what an asshole he is. Rather than personally thank S-Lan for doing his job for him this year, helping Nigel and I do our errands and such, he's using her as a tool to translate for him that we need to thank a weird, manipulative basketcase for being so weird and manipulative.

What a shithead.

But, that's literally miles behind me now. In a handful of days, it'll be even further. Whew.