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.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

As it turns out, I found the perfect way to commemorate my time here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Oh God, oh God, oh God...

Tomorrow my brother arrives in Tokyo, which is a clear signal of the end of my life in Japan. Not to say that my brother's visit is a life-ending experience, but rather that my whole life here will cease, in favor of an extended vacation. Which is...probably, a good thing. I left the school for the last time today, deflated of all pomp and ceremony. After the speeches, after the two months of saying goodbye, it ended like it started; Nigel and I chatting about bullshit as we walked to our shitty bikes, to take our customary ride home.

If anything, if I'm able to compute this whole thing at all, it's a minor shift. No doubt liquor helps a bit - I've been drinking a lot lately, as I've been totally stressed out and it helps me to just chillax. In the abstract, I'm able to think about my absence, but ... in a kind of buddhist way, contemplating my absence in a place with so many emotional connections, while possibly a good addition to my quest for enlightenment, breaks my heart a little. In fact, I'm leaving a good teaching position, where I'm helping students achieve their dreams of international connections and international friends in favor of washing dishes in a small town in Indiana.

Ehh. I don't know. By the time my brother comes tomorrow, I'll only be able to think about which karaoke place we're going to next, before we take off for Amsterdam. I'm thankful for that. If I just had my own loneliness as a guide through the memories of the past year, I'd probably be a lot more upset. With a drunk fraternational relation, it's not so bad.

I just had dinner with two nice Japanese people. I'm really going to miss having eccentric Japanese people pay to have dinner with me. I don't imagine that's something that will happen in America often. Though, of course, one never really knows...

Oh God, oh God, oh God...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Speech finished. One of the final nails in the coffin done away with, I have nothing but time at work for the next three working days. No classes, no responsabilities. Just sitting, all day.

The speech has been hanging over my head for the last 2 months. Speaking to a room full of 800 people is always a little nerve-wracking. The speech itself was probably pretty funny, as it was punctuated with tears that I was probably even-more-hilariously attempting to fight back. Here's the rough version, for posterity's sake.

"I have a dream ... Err ... wait, wrong speech. Good morning everyone. I want to thank you for taking me into your school and making me feel at home. You're all wonderful students and teachers. Thank you. (break for sobbing). When I left my home in America, I left all my family and friends behind, and I was very sad and lonely. I thought that when the time came to go back to America, I would feel like I'm going home. But, I don't. I just feel like I'm leaving home again. (break for sobbing, awakward throat-clearing coughs). This school is my school. Thank you very much."

Of course, now I feel like a tit. Thirty second before the speech and 60 seconds after, I was totally fine, all smiles and laughs. Hell, I even started with a joke, of sorts! But, for whatever reason, I just had to make my final impression on the kids a bearded man in a sharp suit clutching a microphone and speaking in a high-pitched voice in between weeping-noises. Great. My legacy rules.

Tonight is the enkai. And ... I'd like to think that the enkai will go a bit better than today, though I don't know. I have another (drunken) speech to give to all the teachers. And, of course, I'll be saying goodbye to all my friends at school. I hope I don't foul it up by being all weepy.

This is my 100th post. I feel like celebrating, but I don't know how. We've come a long way, honey.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The sunsets have been beautiful for the past few days, which I'm accepting as a consolation for the heat during the day. It's been getting to be the mid-thirties Celsius (dang ... I needed Google to tell me was around 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The period of golden color the hour before sunset seems to go on for two, the mountains on the horizon are silhouetted by the warm-colored sky, and the day's heat is swept away by a slight breeze off of mainland Asia. Today, as I was returning home after work and grocery shopping, the rice fields were an amazing green, stretching into the distance with no breaks, except for one old Japanese farmer, making his way through the rows of rice plants, checking on their progress. I wish I had my damned camera.

In a matter of days, I'm giving my farewell speech to the entire Jr. High. My final day of work will be one day from tomorrow (he said as he drew in a sigh). After Friday's speech and closing ceremony, I'll have one last enkai with my coworkers, which is sure to be a night of debauchery. Food to the max, whiskey to the gills, karaoke til the early hours. It's a wonderful thing when Jr. High teachers cut loose. They're such ... interesting people? I sometimes have wondered what the social grouping of my Jr. High school would look like through these refined eyes. I imagine some things would stay the same. I will be pretty gutted to say goodbye to some of the teachers, though. I really feel like I've made some close connections, and a final night will be hard to take.

But, then again, it's about time. It seems to me that I've been leaving for the last two months, and I'm about ready to have done with the whole thing, and have myself a little vacation to Europe. Fuck yeah. Because, even the little things are just grinding me down. Singing Olivia Newton John's cover version of John Denver's "Take me Home, Country Roads" with the first grade almost always makes me choke up in a weird way. The strange thing is that, early on in my travel, when I was still incredibly homesick, I would sing that song at karaoke and become nostalgic for my parent's patch of dirt back home. And, like most other things, having a chorus of children echoing the sentiment that I'm missing my "home far away," and that hey, I really "should have been home yesterday," can bring a choke in my singing voice. Goddamned children's choirs.

After I leave, I don't know what to do with this blog. It was begun to create a chronicle of my times here, and offer a kind of personal connection to those of you back home who care about my day-to-day (okay, sometimes week-to-week) affairs. And, although it's served me as a really wonderful lens for looking at my life, as well as a nice avenue for a productive writing excercise, it's usefulness is about come to an end. Even though my name has always been a misnomer (I mean, I'm not exactly single, though ... I'm not sure that that's a disqualifier for being "single" ... I am solitary, usually...), the move back home destroys the point of the blog, for all intents and purposes. I think, at most, there will be a few blogs once I get back home. Because, let's face it, I may need to vent about the return to America. Culture Shock is certain to be more severe upon returning home, and my friends can only stand hearing so much.

But, as it is, the sound of my things being packed into boxes sounds the deathknell of Single White Gaijin. ...If I were more intelligent, I would've saved all this for the 100th post. I suppose the 95th will have to do. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Botchan, and a bike in distress

Oh, hello there. I just finished a novel by Natsume Soseki, that he wrote around 1905. It's very famous in Japan, and is maybe a story akin to America's the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was gifted to me through my good friend Zensho, and it was so good that I devoured it in two days. But, that's not surprising. I knew that I would get into it, as Japanese literature is almost always amazing (if you don't believe me, read Haruki Murakami).

What was surprising is that the book captures perfectly a lot of my experience in Japan, despite what I would assume to be a huge cultural rift, as well as a hundred years seperating Botchan's story from my own. The basic story is this, a young (23 year old!) Botchan gets out of university at the dawn of the 20th century, and becomes a teacher in a far-off prefecture do to a lack of serious life-planning. A page out of my own life, only the prefecture was a bit farther for me than Botchan. Even though the young protagonist speaks Japanese, the dialect of the new prefecture is so strong that there are often communication problems. Additionally, the fast-talking Tokyoite Botchan has a completely different notion of how to go about doing things than the backwater staff and students, and is constantly seen as rude or pushy, which is a common problem for foeigners in Japan. We're used to straight talking, and clear directions from our bosses, which in Japan is avoided as it seems pushy. Additionally, there's one other young teacher that becomes his confidante and happens to be the only person he can speak freely with. This young character corresponds to Nigel in my situation.

It even has a situation wherein the shithead, crafty, pansy boss is lying and sneaking his way into forcing a teacher to leave. Basically it boils down to the two against the crafty boss, with a lot of parallels to my situation over the last year.

I guess it's just interesting that, in fiction, you can find something so far removed from your life in general that can still apply. Finding this novel at the end of my trip has really mellowed me out about my impending return. It's kind of given me a little space to appreciate the my situation in an abstract scenario, which is pretty excellent.

Additionally, riding home from work today I was thinking about my mama-cherry, which is rapidly deteriorating, and how it can stand as a metaphor for my experience in Japan. Basically, my bike has just been breaking one piece at a time over the months, keeping pace with my slackening desire to keep teaching. Although, I sometimes wonder if I'm not making a mistake coming back to the states after only one year, I've lately found that the Jr. High classrooms can be kind of uncomfortable ... just like my bike. Additionally, the other day, something just snapped; in my bike's case, it was one of the rear spokes. In my personal case, it's the realization that my brother Joe will be in Japan in less than two weeks, which kicks off the start of the European Tour. As a result, I've totally lost it at school; full of jokes and enjoyment, and a total loss of professional spirit. In fact, yesterday, I was kicking off a class with a song, as we usually do. It was a song from Aladdin, "A Whole New World." I was with one of my favorite teachers, and I just ... kind of lost it. I told him "You be Jasmine, I'll be Aladdin! Let's do this!" and jumped on a desk and began to serenade the 45 year-old teacher in front of a bunch of bewildered students.

After we were through (with gestures!), one student looked around and began to clap. I totally got a slow clap, although I did instigate it a bit. As the student looked around, I just said "No, no, no. It's totally okay to clap. We're amazing. That was amazing, really. We're excellent," and much to everyone's surprise, it started the whole class off.

Man, my life is just ... not gonna be weird enough for me when I get back home.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ohisashiburi ne!

"Ohisashiburi ne" means something like "Long time, no see," which is in itself a calque from Chinese (perhaps the two are related, I'm unsure...). In any case, I'm trying to say that it's been a while since I took the time to update my blog. I wish that I had some cool excuse that didn't reflect poorly on me. But, the truth of the matter is that, in addition to being a little busy figuring out packing and traveling and all that mess, in my spare time, I've been playing games for my Nintendo DS. I bought a few of them just before my birthday, as sort of a birthday gift to myself. Needless to say, if I was planning on being productive, I took the wrong approach.

So, besides conquering continents from my adversaries in Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolutions, what have I been doing? Well, for one thing, I've totally finished my elementary school days. But, I know how tedious it can be to re-read what appears to be the same stories over and over again. Trust me, it can be even more tiring to live them over and over. My last day ever, not only did I not shed a single tear, but I managed to get a couple of laughs out of the teaching staff with a little banter. Which, I suppose proves to me that I'm ready to leave. I've had six practice goes, and in less than two weeks, I give me farewell speech to the whole of the Jr. High School, by far the most trying ordeal. I really feel quite close to the teachers at the Jr. High, and it will be seriously tough to hold it together on that day. But, I knew it was coming the moment I arrived, and there's nothing to be gained by pretending that I didn't. So, there's that.

Additionally, I've got a definite move-out date for my apartment. Though, per usual, Asshat and the BOE are being total turds about everything. I am totally not surprised, and I don't imagine that, if you've read more than two blog entries, you are either. Basically, although I'm paying rent on my apartment until July 31st, I have to vacate by July 26th, because that's when my contract ends. It doesn't matter that my apartment will just lie empty for a few weeks before the next guy comes (because they're quitting the program that brought me over and entering into a contract with a new company, the next ALT won't arrive until mid-August). Basically, I guess it's an only slightly veiled admission that the sooner they can get me out of town, the better. But, I'm beyond caring too much. I just want to be finished with the whole thing, and I'll be happy if I never have to see hide or hair of Asshat ever again. Here's hoping.

Speaking of the next ALT, though, I heard some miserable news. In their infinite wisdom, my rural town has decided that the two new ALTs will occupy two totally different jobs: one going to the Jr. High every day (excellent), and the other going to a different elementary school every day of the week (horrifying). I really feel so bad for whoever is stepping into those shoes, to be sure, especially if they're fresh from their foreign country, like I was when I arrived. I don't want to sound dismissive or shitty, but I think the BOE has a lot more on their hands than they'd intended, because I can't imagine that anyone could handle such a tough job day-in, day-out, without any serious help from the BOE. But, we'll see.

Last week, I stopped off for some okinomiyaki, an omletteish, pizzaish Japanese food, with a new acquaintance and his friends. First, let me tell you how I met the guy. I went to onsen with my friends, a week ago last Friday. You may remember onsen from Gaijin Adventure #89, The Case of the Bubbling Foot Bath. In any case, I was sitting naked in a pool of hot water, and another foreigner sits down near me, and I start just shooting the shit with him for a minute. It turns out, he's french and he works for a french company near where I live. Cool enough. And when I'm ready to rinse off and get dressed again, I say goodbye and figure that I'll never see him again. Only, the next day as I'm standing on a train platform to catch a train from Higashi Matsuyama, I see him waiting for his train. So, we have a laugh about how coincidental the whole thing is, shake hands and jokingly say that we'll see each other later. And the next day at lunch, I walk into a restaurant with my friends and see the same guy eating lunch with his co-workers.

So, I figured, hey, fate is fate. Every time you meet someone, it's like you get this chance, and you don't know what it's for, but it's a certain kind of chance. To make a friend or an enemy, learn something new, tell an old joke, whatever. And in the course of 48 hours, I had rejected two chances, so I decided fair is fair, he introduced me to his friends and we agreed to meet for dinner the next week. One of the coolest things is that one of his friends is Moroccan born, and speaks arabic. So, when I met her, she told me her name was Aziza, and I told her that's a wonderful Arabic name. I asked her in Aabic if she could speak it, and we had a little conversation in Arabic! It's been a long time for me to use Arabic, and I don't imagine I'd find many other opportunities to do so in Japan.

So, I was eating Japanese food, speaking Arabic with someone while the whole rest of the table was speaking in French. And, in a really awesome way, it's moments like that that make me realize how wonderful my whole last year has been. Because it wasn't just a door to Japanese culture, and it wasn't just a reflection on my own upbringing (though I obviously did my best to analyze and understand both), but rather it was a kind of awakening to world culture; meeting people from everywhere who all congregate together around one of the world capitals, Tokyo.

I don't know. It was just really nice. Anyway, I guarantee that I'll write at least 100 blogs. So, that leaves only 3 or 4 more, I think. Of course, I could always write more....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The one where I'm a little drunk.

Hey, all. I'm a bit drunk, which should do to explain all the spelling and grammatical errors.

Today was a pretty tai-hen day (which means it was difficult). I went to Nishi-Sho with my helper-friend, S-Lan. We taught the hell out of some kids (five lessons straight!), but it just tuckered me out. The worst part is that, although this is my last week of regular elementary classes, Nishi-Sho went ahead and scheduled me for an appearance next week; which is, in short, a dick move.

After finishing today, I had another turd-sandwich to swallow; a meeting with Mr. Asshat himself. I needed to discuss my air tickets home (which of course, have nothing to do with the BOE). Despite describing my position to multiple important persons at the Jr. High School, somehow, the whole thing needed to be settled by a round-table discussion. Which wasn't, by far, the highlight of the meeting.

Nigel, despite wanting to stay in Yoshimi (past his JET term) until next April, is being refused entry to the schools of Yoshimi. Which makes about zero sense. Basically, the BOE wants an ALT who is fluent in Japanese (Nigel is), who understands what is required of him as a teacher (Nigel does), and who poses as few problems as possible for the completely incompetent directing crew at the BOE (Nigel hasn't asked them for a thing for years). So. basically, they're asking for Nigel, only not Nigel. And, because of this bizarre understanding of the universe, they are willing to put Nigel through a legitimately hellish set of trails (Visa problems as an "instructor", a new apartment, a job search which is disrupted from the average teaching year, etc.). It makes about zero goddamn sense.

And also, true to form, my boss is a total asshole to me, as well. Instead of staying in my apartment until July 31st (which I have to pay rent for), I have to evacuate on the 26th, because of contractual limitations which make about as much sense as a fucking screen-door submarine. Needless to say, I was pretty upset at the whole thing, as it forces me to find temporary lodging for my brother and I for a week in Japan (which I naively assumed would be taken care of).

In any case, after such a meeting, I needed a little drink. I went to the yakitoriya nearby my house, and ordered dinner and a beer. While I was eating and drinking, I began to converse with the old men around me, and began to really hit it off. But, it was a serious mistake to reveal that my birthday was tomorrow. The guy next to me, an old retired gentlman, kept buying me beers, and refusing to take no for an answer. The female yakitoriya owner brought out a cheesecake, put a candle in it, and proceeded to get the whole place to sing "Happy Birthday" in English for me. I have to say that it's one of those memories that will always stay with me; a whole room of foreign people, mostly men, singing in a foreign language just because of something which involves me that I can't help.

I was deeply touched.

And so, my deadline is not only approaching, it is continually racing closer and closer to the present. It's a compounding effect, which can't continue on. I'm losing almost a whole week of time in Japan because of some shit-silly decision by my boss. That's a loss that I suppose I can forgive, but I'm not willing to give any more. Every single day has become a kind of adventure to me, like it was at the beginning. I'm starting to see things through the lens of "the last," which is probably not a good sign. In the same way that experience "The Last Day" over and over again at the elementary schools has begun to dull my experience of the last last, so my experience of life in Japan is beginning to experience such troubles. I'm doing my best to keep them at bay, and enjoy the little things that Japan has yet to give me.

Please, wish me luck.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me.

This is the last full week of elementary school schedule. And, although all my latest posts (when I've found the time to make them) are ostensibly all about the same thing, the evidence just keeps stacking up - I'm on my way out of here.

That said, I am totally overjoyed to be finishing up elementary schools. Sure, it's sad to have to say goodbye alot, but I'm beginning to feel like the time is right. Part of that is because I've already gone ahead and purchased my plane tickets for my return journey home, which I am incredibly pumped about. For starters, my brother Joe is coming to visit Japan for a week or so before we both hop on a plane out of Tokyo, headed for Europe. It's my virgin trip to Europe, but it seems like an excellent way to finish up what will certainly be remembered as "My Asian Year" ... that is until I opt to have another.

Somehow buying the plane ticket has made everything real and concrete; now I have a definite way home, a definite route with real times, an actual travel companion, etc. So, here I am. Rather than playing with an amorphous and uncertain plan, I've now got deadlines and a real sense of immediacy. I don't suppose I need to tell you how excited I am for this trip - Joe's my oldest friend as well as my brother, and I can't wait to share this trip with him, just the two of us. He's never left the US before, I think, and I'm really pumped to see his reaction to traveling in general. The first stop: Amsterdam. I've always wanted to go, and I'm more pumped about seeing a beautiful canal-city than any of the other stops we have planned.

That said, nothing can exactly be easy when I'm dealing with the Board of Education. Although I've taken the initiative to buy my own ticket - and made it abundantly clear that I am turning down the direct ticket from Narita to O' Hare that my BOE owes me, in favor of taking a pleasure trip, I still have to physically state my case to one of my least favorite people - Asshat. I honestly feel that I might incur some displeasure for deciding to take my return journey into my own hands. But, so it goes.

My birthday is on Wednesday. It's kind of weird to have a birthday away from home. I mean, as it is, I have made some really great friends, and I'm kind of excited to just go out for dinner and drinks with them, and just kind of enjoy what this birthday has to offer - a little different from previous years. But, the whole year's been like that.

Oh yeah! I forgot to mention! I was supposed to spend my birthday with the principal of one of the elementary schools - which I mentioned in "The Gaijin Files: The Case of the Energy Supplement". Well, he totally cancelled. ...In a really awkward way. He came to my house last Thursday, knocked on the door while I was talking to my brother in the states, and before I could answer, he opened the door. And I told him to hold on a minute, finished up my conversation, and ran outside, whereupon he told me in broken English "Your birthday ... My house ... No. No." So, I said "Some other place?" And he said "You ... me ... your birthday ... no." So, I asked in Japanese if he had become busy, or had other plans, and even in Japanese, he basically just said it was cancelled.

In a way, I'm really disappointed. Because, spending a Wednesday night getting Japanese-drunk with a boss who speaks very little English would at least be an interesting way to celebrate my 23rd birthday. But ... then again, on the other hand, it's probably for the best. I mean, I can't imagine things would just proceed totally smoothly all night - he hardly speaks a word of English, and my (drunk) Japanese is not good enough to carry an hours-long conversation covering topics that the sober mind shrinks from considering.

In any case, I've got a nice group of friends, a nice little city, a nice little bar, and a nice little life. And I couldn't ask for any more than that.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Monkey Warning.

Yesterday was weird. For a few reasons. It was my last day at one of my favorite schools; Kita-Sho. The staff are all so nice, and extremely helpful. For instance, they always give me their BEST coffee cup. Which is such a small thing, but so nice. And snacks and help photocopying stuff. Also, the staff are always trying to learn English from me, and speak the English the know. It's just a wonderful place. Everyone felt really human, and I felt like I had made friends with some of the teachers, and actually managed to have a kind of friendly connection. A far cry from where I taught today.

I had a very easy time finishing up work today. I won't name the school, because there's no need to identify a school I won't miss too much. Today was horrible, though. I am overjoyed that I never have to attempt to teach either of the 5th grade classes ever again. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so frustrated/straight-up-angry with children before. The worst thing is that they just don't understand you, so if you lose it and shout, they'll just mock you. So, I took some deep breaths and just reminded myself that while I am a super-cool, suave, funny, handsome and intelligent world-traveller, the kid who was screaming "I DON'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING! IT'S IMPOSSIBLE" while punching kids at random is just a 10 year old who is so caught up in sugar rushes and Pokemons that he can't focus on anything, besides trying to touch my penis, for more than 10 minutes at a time.

But ... it was also weird because ... today, we had a monkey warning at lunch.

Yeah. A monkey WARNING. For those not in the know, that means that there was a monkey, somewhere, on the loose. The principal had to walk around the school to make sure the kids could go out for recess. ...Because of a wild monkey. Honestly, what the fuck, Japan?

Monday, June 15, 2009


...For playing hooky. It's been a common occurrence lately. And I am not complaining. In fact, I am personally recommending it to you. Do yourself a favor; call in sick tomorrow and sleep in.

Last week, I called in sick on Monday and enjoyed my personal day at home - did laundry, prepped some things for moving, read a bit, and just generally took care of myself. It was great. Then I had my last day at Minami-Sho, as I told you in my last entry (Which, as Nicky J. did the public service of noting, was MUCH too whiny. As usual, Nicky J. is correct.). So, this week, when my usual elementary-day Tuesday rolled around, guess which school didn't need me to come? ...And guess which Jr. High assumed that I'd be at an elementary school?

I feel crafty about laying low today. In a way, I feel like my American work ethic is something I should seek to correct, rather than privately rejoice in. But, honestly, what's a gaijin to do? Today, if I went to the Jr High, I wouldn't have any classes scheduled, and due to some sports festival that's going on, I'd just sit at my desk reading all day. So, I didn't call it in. I didn't talk to nobody. Just sleeping late, and hoping no one will notice. ...And they so totally haven't! Score.

Additionally, I had ordered boxes for moving home, and they were delivered today! So, if I felt a little guilty about opting out of work today, there goes all the guilt! I was productive! The weird thing about the boxes is that they were in centimeters when I ordered them online. And, I don't know a damn thing about centimeters, despite my living in Japan for a year. I even converted to inches! And...somehow I ordered too many boxes that are way too big! ...I ordered six boxes. And, if I were crafty, I could fit everything I own into one of them. It's like 2 feet by a foot and a half by a foot and a half, or something.

Mo' boxes, mo' problems.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lessons Learned (So Far); Or, The Beginning of the End.

Today, I taught at one of my favorite schools - Minami Sho. The school used to be five-classes a day, everyday. But, as I mentioned before, the enforcer of this class limit is preggo, and enjoying her maternity leave - leaving me in a sweet position. Well, at least until today. After I taught my classes (All of which, I will have you know, I fucking ruled at! The 5th graders were so unenthusiastic, but by the end of the class, I had them eating out of my hand, begging to speak English.), I consulted a schedule only to find that today was my last day at Minami Sho. Ever.

I'm not sure if it's for worse or for best that the students didn't know it was the last time they'd ever see me. I mean, if I knew it was my last time to teach them, I'm not sure what I could've done differently - their grasp of English doesn't permit me to express myself, my limitations in Japanese would offer the same issues. And all that besides, what could I possibly say in class? I was brought to do a job, and I've done it as well as I can, and I've grown to love a lot of the people who were with me through the whole damn thing, and whether or not they know how much I've come to rely on their occasional presence doesn't really matter. All the laughs and discomforts and everything else is all rolled up into a big, retrospective memory. Slapping a melodramatic seal on the end of it won't make the whole thing worthwhile, I don't suppose. But, still, as I wrapped up my lesson with the 6th graders, I told them we'd do the second half of an activity "next time." I feel bad for misleading them.

As the students didn't know I was leaving, they all filed out of school as on any other day, at a time which usually finds me gulping down hot coffee, staring out the window, totally drained. This time, I stood in the hallway, as the children rushed past me, hurrying off to their afternoon playtime. As they ran past, they exchanged what appear to be fairly feeble parting words: "See you!", "Bye-bye!", etc. I waved, high-fived and saluted them. Sometimes, it's horrible to know more than other people, to be "let in" on a secret that affects everyone. I sure hope that they remember me. Perhaps years down the line, only as "hige-sensei" (beard-sensei). Perhaps not at all. Still, I'm happy to have given them the tools to say goodbye to me at all, showed them how to sharpen them and use them. Because of the limitations, to me, "see you" has almost the same ring as a more definite and serious word of parting. I wonder how I'll remember the whole thing in five year's time.

The teachers were all exceedingly kind to me, when they discovered it was my last day. They printed pictures of the students for me, made me a thank-you card, personally said goodbye to me, and ushered me out. I am sorry to say that after my first handshake, I was totally overcome with weeping. I never used to cry at such events, but ... I'm just so bad at saying goodbye. I often wish that I couldn't tell the gravity of an event until it's already past - that way I stay myself, don't muck anything up by being emotional, and I have a memory of my "last -----" to reflect on years down the road. I managed to mutter a tearful "Hontoni, arigatou gozaimashita" (honestly, thank you very much) as I slipped out of the teacher's room. One of the young male teachers who I've had a great teaching rapport with followed me outside after I'd collected myself, and told me "You always ... had the kids ... excited. And they liked English because they liked you. You are ... a good teacher. One day, I know ... you will become a great man." I managed to keep it together, after that. But just barely.

I'm just a little shocked. This is how it all ends, the whole Japanese adventure. Not with a quick edit from Tokyo to Chicago, not in a clean-break of a single "last," but this slow, creeping realization. The first tally mark in the reckoning of the great sadness that lies in growing to know a whole community of people, and having to say goodbye over and over, 1,000 times. When I lay it out in the abstract, it just breaks my heart. I know I can have the strength to say goodbye, because I had the strength to come here, and had the strength to say goodbye to the only home I had previously known. It's just hard to adopt a new place and watch it all slip away. One thing is certain, however; the fullness of my heart is sure to exceed the limitations of my vocabulary in this strange and foreign land. And unfortunately, it'll be difficult to explain myself with a smile this time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The one where I went to Onsen, among other things.

This last week flew by, as they seem to be doing with startling speed, which is giving me a bit of anxiety - I still haven't started packing, I still haven't planned my return trip home, etc. The extra elementary school day, paired with some of the worst classes I've taught in the last 10 months spread over the extended week had left me totally drained (despite the assistance of TioVita).

Despite having to go to my least favorite school on Friday to teach some monitored classes, I had a pretty alright day. Except for the last class. 4th grade. One girl was crying. All class. There was a mentally handicapped boy, without an attendant, stealing my cards and knocking stuff on the ground for the whole period. There were six boys who refused to so much as look at me, and just kept pushing each other around and making fun of the special kid. The Home Room Teacher was doing his best to just get the girl to stop crying. I shouted over the din and chaos - but all to little or no avail.

And despite all that, I was still having an alright day. Teaching with S-Lan is always a bit more enjoyable than trying to manage alone. At least she can translate what I say to the kids/teachers. Plus, she's fine company.

But, after teaching classes, I ran into my "boss" (hereafter referred to as "Asshat") in the hallway, and he totally pissed me off. He initially told me that I did a good job and such, but when I was leaving to return to the Jr. High (a recent habit adopted by Nigel and I, as we're sick of sitting around at the elementary schools, twiddling our fingers. I shit you not when I tell you that the school I taught at on Friday, literally puts us in our own room, totally segregated from the "real" teachers. To just sit. The other schools aren't any better. A school near my house puts us in the teachers room, nice enough, but puts us in the middle of an aisle, so we're constantly moving out of everyone's way all day while we're twiddling our fingers. We started heading out after our last class, unless a teacher asks to talk about a lesson plan or something, because unlike the elementary schools, we have our own desks and work to do at the Jr. High. Anyway...), Asshat stopped me in the hallway to kind of talk me down for leaving the elementary school. And, guess what? It's some kind of decree now that I'm not to leave any of the elementary schools after classes, but I have to just sit at my desk and watch the clock until 4.30. There is not a shred of reason in it, not a shred of efficiency, nothing. I'm totally perplexed. And to be frank, whether or not I do what my boss tells me is entirely up to how I'm feeling on that particular day. I hate to sound so petulant, but I'm just so sick of this guy, it's silly.

Anyway, immediately after school on Friday, I caught the first bus to a nearby town, where I caught the first train available, to catch the second bus available to my friend Geoff's house for his birthday. I had a pretty good time, and got to talk about werewolves, ghosts, and the impending digital takeover of the world order. Not a bad night, all in all. Geoff's a really nice guy, and though he's a Kiwi, he studied U.S. government in college and is incredibly knowledgable. I'm usually in awe of his understanding. I'll be bummed out when we part ways, to be sure.

And then, Saturday morning (after a full night of mosquitos attacking me), I headed out with my friends Laura, Brian, and Dave to Gunma-ken to onsen. Onsen, for those not in the know, is an awesome part of Japanese culture - Ritualized group bathing in hot mineral springs. And I know exactly what you're thinking, because I was there once myself. You're thinking "Wait. Group bathing. As in ... naked ... with a bunch of other people?" Yeah, dude. Get over it, you prude.

I was really shocked how, once in the environment of onsen, it didn't feel weird at all to bare all to friends and new acquaintances. I mean, the most awkward thing was the myriad of bug bites I had received the day before. No one wants to look like they have chicken pox in a big ol' pot of people soup. Honestly, I don't think I've ever been so clean in my whole life, though. You can't just jump into the hot springs before seriously scrubbing yourself down. On Saturday alone, because of a shower in the morning and multiple trips to the pools, I took five showers and clocked over two hours in a bath.

I can't recommend it highly enough. I felt like a baby - all my muscles were too weak to do anything but chill out. The resort gave us stylish yukata to wear around the hotel, as well. Extremely stylish and comfortable.

So, going to sleep on Saturday night felt like being a baby, wrapped in nice cloth, relinquishing my grip on consciousness one finger at a time, rolling the moment around in my head a while before finally giving in. Needless to say, I feel like a new man, and almost all memories of last week have been wiped clean away (which makes it really hard to write a retrospective entry about them, by the way).

Despite all, I still may take a personal day tomorrow. Get some personal time in, sleep in, clean my shower, do laundry, pay bills, go shopping, etc. It all just depends on how I feel in the morning. I'll be sure to tell you the result.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Elementary school, TioVita, Birthdays and Me.

The elementary schedule is pressing on - which really should only mean one thing to me; my impending return to the home of the brave, land of the free. But, it doesn't just mean that. It means saying goodbye to all the friends I've made, it means packing up all my shit, and having to sort it all out beforehand. Most importantly, it means that I'm dead tired more often than not. Which gives me little to no energy to appreciate/figure out everything else that ails me. I've been doing alright for the past month, but this week has already been a nightmare, and I've got an extra special Friday at one of my least favorite schools to pull this week, while being monitored by "important" people. Weeeeee!

The classes this week have just been amazingly bad - kids are totally misbehaved, lesson plans are shit, I'm feeling horrible every morning before I even step foot in the schools, etc. Today, even while working at one of my favorite schools, I just couldn't manage to get my shit together, no matter how hard I tried. That is, until I met TioVita.

TioVita (pronounced "Cho-Bee-Tuh") is peculiar Japanese curiosity. As the clip shows, TioVita comes in a tiny little brown bottle. What the commercial doesn't tell you (in English, anyway), is that it's jam packed full of vitamins and other things. What other things? Well,, special things! Like caffeine! And taurine! ...and nicotine? Wait. What the fuck? Nicotine? Seriously?

Yeah. Seriously. My principal saw that I was dragging ass, and being the nice guy that he is, he gave me a bottle of TioVita and told me it'd make me feel better. And, it totally did. Almost crazy better (sidenote: Taurine+caffeine [three cups of coffee and whatever is in TioVita]+nicotine=laugh for no reason in class alot). So it worked ... but it's probably hella-bad for me. I'm still tempted, you know, just to help me make it through the next month. ...Not that I'm addicted or anything. I could quit anytime I wanted.

The school I was teaching in today is such a nice place. The teachers are friendly, classes are small, the kids are usually cooperative. All the kinds of things you'd want in an elementary school. Before I headed out (I've got a date to keep with a good friend who's going away. Yakitori, away!), I had a nice long chat with most of the office staff, during which it was discovered that I am celebrating my 23rd birthday on the 24th of this month. I was also talking about going to yakitori in Ogawamachi to see my friends, and hang with Brian for one of the last times in Japan, during which my drinking habits came into question. Before I knew what was happening, the principal asked if I had plans for the night of my birthday, a Wednesday. I told him no, and he told me I needed to come to his house and get drunk with him! So, that's it. I'm pretty tied into it. And, truth be told, I'm kind of looking forward to it, in a crazy way. I mean, he can't speak more than 5 words of English, and my Japanese, while partially intelligible, is not good enough for long, drunken rambling. And, anyway, it's a Wednesday! So, I have school Thursday morning, anyway.'s awkward to cancel, and he didn't seem to want to take no for an answer.

And, after school, he followed me out and said "Car, bike, my house, okay." And I smiled and said "okay." What I didn't realize at the time is that he wanted to follow me back to my house, so he knew where to pick me up on my birthday. What I thought was that he was either going to have me follow him to his house (presumably nearby), or that he would load my bike into his car and take me home, for some reason. Well, I thought I was following him, and he thought he was following me, and we just followed each other for a while, right through some nice farmland. It would've been a shame if it weren't such nice weather, and if I hadn't just drank the liquid equivalent to crack cocaine. As it was, we just laughed it off, headed the right way, shook hands and headed our different ways. I'll let you know how Drunk-Principal's-House-2009 turns out.

In the meantime, I need to pretty myself up, so Brian's got something nice to look at while we eat ourselves into a coma. Until next time.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Shinjuku Police...

Are astoundingly polite. Friday night, while having one of our "crazy nights on the town," I was made personally aware of the above-mentioned fact. I'll elaborate.

We stayed out past the last train in Shinjuku, and took to marching through the streets, going from bar to bar. At one point, we even just bought whiskey from a convenience store, split it into the Coke bottles, and stood outside of a petshop, watching the puppies and kitties sleep away their night. We found a rock bar, roughly about the size of the average American closet. Beers were cheap, and you could play any music for free. The other guys in the bar had a pretty poor taste in music, and we immediately instigated a rock battle. I'll see your Oasis, and raise you Black Flag. Once we started playing CRASS at max volume, I think it became clear who was the winner. Josh and I danced (by which I mean jumping around and putting various objects over our heads), before we were asked to leave.

But, as the night became morning, we ended up tucked into some small bar, spending the last of the money in our pockets. And, at some point, perhaps while in the bathroom, I fell asleep. Josh looked for me, but was so drunk that, as the bar was closing for the night, he assumed I must've headed back home on my own. The police were called, and they carried me to the nearest police station and showed me to the drunktank.

And, I have to tell you, it wasn't half bad. I was in there alone, sleeping on a nice vinyl mat for a few hours. The police were incredibly courteous to me, all things considered. When they woke me up, they had me sign myself out, but I felt so hungover, I just asked to be put back in the drunk tank for a couple more hours. They laughed really hard, bought me a water, helped clean me up, and sent me on my way.

Needless to say, I felt pretty nasty for a long time afterward, and I'm laying low today to try to expedite my progession to wellness before heading off to work tomorrow morning. I bet the kids have no idea what their teacher can be like in his spare time. They'd be shocked, I'm sure.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Quick Addendum

Upon re-reading my last post, I realize that it sounded like a paranoid, anti-government rant. And really, it shouldn't have been. I should've laughed some laughs and breathed in deep and restrained from writing about it. Because now, it looks like I'm a bit of a nutter.

I called the IRS, got some help and, though they aren't sure why I was rejected, the lady on the phone sounded confident that it was a bureaucratic mistake on their part.

I've just had a long history of getting ridiculous bills in the mail that actually need to be paid; school loans, for one. And, in my first real dealings with the IRS, I wondered if one could take things too seriously. My family put a deep-rooted fear of the IRS in me since I was a young 'un.

In any case, I apologize for the crazy talk. Next time, I'll do a little better.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Ain't Got no Home in this World Anymore.

I had a long day of teaching at the biggest elementary school in town. The kids are mostly great, and the working situation has definitely improved since the teacher-shuffling of April and new-scheduling of May. I even had help from S-Lan, the psuedo-homestay-mother friend/helper that I'm ever so grateful for. Even though things are better (or is it that I've just finally successfully adapted to the requirements of the profession?), it was still a struggle to pull myself through the sixth-period class to be told immediately after that I'm to teach a "Special Day" next Friday, being monitored by other teachers and parents throughout all of my classes. Some days, one can only heave a heavy sigh, continue trudging along, and occassionally give thanks that you find yourself wearing a smile.
Geez, I make it sound like a deathmarch! Christ, it's not all that bad, to be sure.

Honestly, on the way home from work, I was thinking to myself (while riding my bike through the brilliant weather - overcast and cool, a nice respite from the heat or rain) that real life, when I find myself really enjoying it, can bear a striking resemblance to playing videogames. At first Punchout, with it's varying cast of characters, seems impossible - after defeating Glass Joe, that is. There are so many series of punches, dodges and blocks to memorize, a whole new set of attacks to guard against, and new weakness to exploit. And when I find myself enjoying life, it's because I know what sorts of challenges in the day-to-day to expect, and what I need to do when they arise. When a bill arrives, no matter what language it's in, I know how and when to pay it now. When I feel crushed by a thousand chores, I just have to take them one by one and sort them out. The list goes on.

But, of course - and this appears to be some kind of punishment for thinking things aren't so bad, or that maybe I have things figured out for a while - new complications always arise. And inevitably, as I scramble to meet them, I get so nervous and pessimistic. So, as I came home, confident that I know how to shuck and jive this crazy Japanese world of mine, who should reenter to fuck it all up but Uncle Sam; the very man whose company I'm beginning to fear.

That's right, dude. The IRS is after me. Apparently, they've rejected my request to be viewed as a Japanese tax payer, even though it was my primary residence over the last year. Now, it is probably just a misfiling of misunderstanding, but the sheer numbers have me shitting my pants. I owe the U.S. government something in the ballpark of $7,726.72, as of June 8th. Frankly, it's like skipping Piston Honda just to get totally stomped by the man himself, Mike Tyson.

So, now I'm panicking like usual, viewing all my problems at once and feeling overwhelmed. I would be terribly worried about such a large sum of money (which I honestly have no hope of repaying), if it weren't so terribly funny. Things like this always seem to happen to me, and it's a true family trait to be able to shrug it off with a laugh. I mean, do these people honestly think that they'll get that kind of money from me? I knew the government was corrupt and inept, but I didn't realize they were so stupid. So, for once, the joke is on them. ...I wonder if they'd make me do jailtime.

If shit comes to shit, though, I could always just duck into a country like Vietnam for a few months, waiting to extend my period outside the country to whatever limit would satisfy their ridiculous demands. Anyway, for the time being, "Ha-ha-ha."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Swine Flu, Elementary Schools and Me.

Let's kick this off on a personal note: I'm sorry I haven't been updating like I know I should. It seems that since I got back from Vietnam and Cambodia, I hit the ground running and haven't stopped to rest until now. Last night, I slept 13 hours. Today, my plans are to finish reading a book, possibly take a bath, and if I'm feeling extremely productive, I'll do a little laundry. I anticipate a full recovery.

Speaking of illness and recovery, have you guys heard about this Pig Flu thing (please read irony into that comment, as I realize how poorly irony can travel in print)? Well, if answered that you had heard of it, you're in step with everyone in Japan. It seems to be the only thing people can think about lately. I heard yesterday that Japan is suffering from unprecedented shortages of facemasks (commonly worn when sick or to defend against infection) around Tokyo. The emphasis was initially placed on quarantining Japan from the outside world at the airport, involving screening people for potential symptoms and placing them into quarantine rooms. Since quarantine failed (several cases were reported around Osaka), they've moved the emphasis to domestic prevention. Hence the mask sell-outs. But, there's another possibly-unintentional effect; the fear of gaijin. As Swine Flu is seen as a foreign illness brought into Japan by foreigners, every gaijin is under suspicion of carrying the disease. So, I've been asked at least once every day, at every school, not just if I had the flu, but how it was going. A friend of mine came back from a trip to India and brought with her a stomach ailment, and her school forced her to take an entire week off from school! Yesterday on the train, when I sat down, the two people on either side of me put on the surgical masks.
It's a hard time for the gaijinl; once universally loved, now universally distrusted. We shall overcome.

Nigel and I have progressed through two weeks of the new elementary school schedule, and initial findings would indicate that it's not as terrible a plan as they could force upon us. For instance, Minami was notorious for a five-class schedule every time paired with an extremely critical English liason. This teacher, Ms. Frowny had a personal grudge against one specific game, the "basket game" and if one so much as mentioned it, it illicited a quick response of "That is a bad game. Think of a different one." Well, Ms. Frowny got knocked up a few months ago and is away on maternity leave now. Of course, personal differences are nothing compared to bringing a new life into the world, and I wish her nothing but good health and good luck.
But, holy shit, I am so glad she is gone! We're only teaching three classes a day, which is much more up my alley, as I have time to plan and enjoy everything rather than just run from one class to another all day. And guess what my first lesson plan was? Fuck yes! The basket game!

Of course, there are still problem schools, but they seem few and far between. And in fact, the new principals seem just as upset at the BOE for not communicating to us or giving us our teaching supplies as I am, which is wonderful news. One new principal even rolled his eyes, and said he'd call one of the Big Boys to arrange for us to get the 6th grade English book. So, everything is looking up with just one exception: I'm leaving soon.

As the weeks of elementary school are flying by, and I'm managing to be so busy while standing still, the list of things I have to do before coming back home isn't getting any shorter. But that stack of To-Dos is going to have to wait, at least until tomorrow. For on the 24th day of constant activity, he rested.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back in the J-A-P-AN.

You don't know how lucky you are, boys.

So, I'm back. In Japan. And it's been hard to get back into the swing of things here. Visiting Vietnam and Cambodia re-opened my mind to what other countries in the world are like. To be totally honest, when I felt like I was in a particularly sketchy part of town, I would often think "Hey, this is just like Chicago," a thought that really never occurs to me in Japan. It's just so ... safe.
For instance, it's the fashion for young men to have really long, leather billfold wallets, and have these wallets hang out of the back of their back pocket a few inches. In America, that is an open invitation to get pickpocketed. But in Japan, even Tokyo, you can rest assured that your wallet is safe - any hour of the day. It's crazy, really.

But, life hasn't been all relaxing and adjusting since I got back from my trip. My friend Eric came from the states to visit for about two weeks, and I've been keeping busy making sure he's got what he needs to have a good time in Japan. In a way, it's been really great having him around, because I'm keeping busy and I have someone to hang out with more days than not (it's definitely helping me ease out of my vacation "I'm-with-my-travel-partners-24-hours-a-day" mindset). So, it's been awesome. And also, it's been hella good to see him - it seems like years since I saw him last, actually. He's still the same old Eric, and I'm glad he's having a cool time here. Yesterday, we spent all day around Tokyo and made a good day of it, hanging around Harajuku and Shinjuku mostly. I'm glad to spend time with someone who can make me laugh so hard with regularity.

But, oh, work has not been so great lately. I mean, I've started the new schedule and things aren't horrible. But, my workload at the Jr. High has doubled every day, because I'm spending only Monday and Friday there. Which means, all the classes on Tuesday-Thursday I used to teach have been finagled into Mondays and Fridays. And Tuesday-Thursday is just laughable. It's actually really hilarious. I've succeeded into losing all the anxiety associated with my job at the elementary schools - because I had to.

For instance, Monday afternoon at the Jr. High, I still had no idea which school I was going to the next day, let alone what the schedule would be like. I had to stay late to wait for the schools to fax me some schedules, and only 4 of 6 elementary schools even bothered to send one. So, the next day, I arrive at Miniami-Sho (south elementary) with no idea what I'm expected to teach. And, unbelievably, the 6th grade teacher pulls out a book I've never even seen before! Of course, it's in Japanese as well. Apparently, my Board of Education, on top of being just total assholes, are also just simply incompetent. Every step along the line, when the BOE has bothered to communicate anything to me, it's always last minute. And when they fail to inform me of changes in my job, the elementary schools are always surprised that someone's not doing their job, but unwilling to tell the BOE what they've forgotten to do. So, with little recourse, I just had to laugh and work with the teachers there, and roll with the haphazard classes. ...Which is what I'll be doing at every school, since no one will even let me borrow the new textbook outside of school.

So, I succeed in doing what I said I would in January and February. I merely shrug my shoulders, try to have a laugh, and do what I can do teach. But, I'm not sweating this one. Not at all.

On a final note; today was an incredibly strange day, as far as poor student behavior goes. I had mentioned previously that the new 3 grade students (with the Whitney Huston mullets!) were pulling fire alarms and generally being poor company. Today, a group of 5 or 6 other 3rd grade kids pulled some prank involving toilet paper, and two teachers went absolutely apeshit. When teachers start yelling at my school, other teachers crowd around and look angrily at the student offenders, to create a "wall-of-shame" effect (much like Spector's "Wall-of-Sound"). When I took my place in the shame-line, I saw a teacher knock two desks over, on his way to yell at a student. When he got here, he was shoving him around, and generally going nuts. And then, another teacher that had showed up with me started screaming and yelling, holding a fistful of toilet paper, and going to each of the offending students (now standing and receiving full doses of verbal abuse), and shoving it in their faces! It honestly looked like he was punching them in the face, actually. One kid was knocked off his feet.

To be honest, the whole thing definitely shook me up. I'm not sure that what happened was within legal boundaries, on the one hand. On the other, the behavior is really disruptive, and there aren't any tools at the teachers' deposal like suspension, detention or expulsion. I guess it's humiliation and threat of violence that they're using to keep kids in line, and both of those sit poorly with me. But, then again, I can't fully understand what the situation was, so ... I guess I'll just keep out of it, and see what happens. What do you guys think?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Holiday in Cambodia.

First, let me say that when I was robbed, it was not a violent or malicious act. Someone merely reappropriated my possessions for their own enjoyment - I now understand that, despite the crafty means employed, it more closely resembles an individual's attempt to correct the imbalance between the haves and have-nots with a little crafty handiwork. Of course, I'll miss my iPod (affectionately named Rolling Thunder), and my camera. But, especially the photos, and the reason is because my personal photos and videos fall nowhere within the spectrum of outlaw attempts at social justice.

Whatever the cause, my attempts to get money from the insurance company look really promising (It's totally sweet that I had foresight, for the first time in my life), despite the lack of any official documentation. It's actually a funny story that bears repeating. I was robbed during the bus trip south towards Ho Chi Minh City. I was robbed between Hoi An and Nha Trang (where we stopped for a one hour lay-over), but the man at the office in Nha Trang told me I didn't have enough time to file a complaint, and I couldn't place an international call except from the Post Office, closed for the Vietnamese National Foundation Holiday. Once I got into Ho Chi Minh City later that day, it was too late to do anything about it. But the next day, I tried to contact the police, and was told that because of the Holiday, the police were on vacation. A man on the street told me "It's the holiday. There is no crime now, so the police take vacations." ...No crime. Right.

Cambodia was quite the trip, though Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) had it's charms. For real. By the time we hit Saigon, we had accrued a large crew of people who all knew each other from travelling in the same direction down Vietnam. Though it's much more than 1,000 miles long, it's a pretty narrow place, and the one major highway leading south tends to put us back into contact over and over again with the same people. We had a few days of falling into and out of touch with each other, and somehow, always ending up at the same bar. Not a bad deal at all, really. I've now got a few Norwegian friends, something I've always aspired to, but never managed to realize until recently.

On to Cambodia, however. In some ways, it was the most depressing thing we could've attempted, short of a tour of the the European concentration camp circuit. Pol Pot is the name on the tip of everyone's tongue, and it can be read in the eyes of many of the older generation. Combine 1 part Killing Fields with 2 parts abject poverty, combine with a steady stream of alcohol and you'll add it all up into a bit of a soul crisis. Again, all I have to say about this is that ... for me, this trip wasn't about what I was looking at; whose corpse, what building, what food. It ended up being about finding mirrors in a place I've never been, and sneaking glimpses at the person I am deep down, that changes everytime I look. Like a shadow on the water, it's not the same image for more than a second.

But, I will say, of the physical places I've been to, the temples near Siam Reap, Cambodia ranks higher than the rest. It was simply breathtaking. At Angkor Wat (linked for your pleasure), we watched the sun rise, then went to all the lesser-known temples through the rest of the day, until we watched the sunset from the highest point of a temple built on a hill. A considerable feat for anyone, but especially so considering the fact that we drank 4 beers at lunch. Also, I totally traveled someplace I was WAY not supposed to go, in the most ruinous of the ruins. I saw a big sign that said "Absolutely No Entry" ... but right next to it was a window that didn't say anything at all. So, I jumped in, walked around in the restricted area for almost 15 minutes without seeing or hearing anyone else! There were bats and snakes and rats everywhere, some hallways were crumbled so badly, they were totally closed up. Real Indiana Jones shit, actually. If only I'd stolen some priceless artwork to sell to a European museum, I would've gotten the true Colonial explorer experience.

It's time that I accepted something about myself. I take bad vacations. I always get a funny illness, break my glasses, end up totally penniless, wake up half-naked in strange places, etc. I'm bad at vacations, but I suppose it all depends on your perspective. I'm shit at vacations, but I rule at adventures. I like that.

(Oh, and since my camera was stolen, that means hiatus on photos. Potentially a long hiatus.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

I've been robbed.

That's right, dudes. I've been robbed. Someone lifted my iPod and my camera, stealing all my future memories of Vietnam as well as my super-awesome PSP game scores.

I'm really not all THAT bummed out, though I did have a minor flip-out. I guess I just have poor lucky traveling. But, I'm meeting nice people, and besides running out of money and losing everything of value, everything else is going super well.

I sometimes can't believe that I can maintain a smile and a positive attitude through things that other people might find upsetting.

I'm working with a travel-buddy to try to work something out with my Japanese insurance company. She's Japanese, and super-friendly. I helped her look online to renew her Australian Visa and she's helping me through my insurance stuff.

I'll let you know how it all works out. For the moment, not well. ...but, I'm having a good time, anyway. Don't worry about me, I'm sure I'll get home safe and sound and with a few more stories to tell. I still love Vietnam.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Happy (Vietnamese) Independence Day.

It's April 30th, the day the Americans pulled out of communist Vietnam. It's a strange day to be in Vietnam, but we're still in Hoi An, the strange little resort town that doesn't seem much like the Vietnam you'd imagine. It's almost like...I don't know, what I'd expect the south of France to feel like, only with more tourists. We're taking a round-the-clock "sleeper bus. Our last experience with a sleeper bus was a trip, with the soundtrack provided by some strange Cambodian pop show on VHS. The speaker was literally 3 inches from my head, blaring what sounded like a cat mewling amplified, backed by a litany of pots and pans being thrown down the stairs. Also, there were a shitton of foreign tourists who had met in Hanoi and formed a clique of 16, who were incredibly noisy. Also, the "sleeper bus" driver insisted on honking at everything on the road - all night. 2 am? No problem. 3am? You got it, dude.
The only respite during the bus trip was Mr. Bean on tape. Two episodes on VHS. I have never been happier in all my life to see Mr. Bean.
And that bus was only 14 hours. The next will be 24, with a two hour stop in Nha Trang.

But, I'm holding my head high, trying to keep a smile on my face and enjoy it all while I can. Though, I'm feeling a bit strange today - bumped into an Aussie birthday group last night (with one sour Winnipegger) at a trendy bar, the Before and Now. Stayed out a bit later than I should and woke up at 7.30 to get onto a tour bus for the local ruins of My Son.

We've definitely been living large in Hoi An, and the truth is, I almost want to just put my feet up and drink fruity drinks. It's a bizarre realization for me. I get anxious about carrying my baggage through foreign cities, or worry about making a bus connection, or what have you. Really, I'd just like to take it in one chill day at a time. The initial plan was adventure, and we're having plenty of it, but after a taste of the sweet life, a 24 hour ride into the sweaty, and from all accounts anticlimactic Ho Chi Minh City seems like a tiny bit of a chore.

Christ, I just need to drink a little more coffee and enjoy myself, huh? Until next time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An.

We're almost halfway through Vietnam. I wish I had time to relate everything to you or a journal before I forget everything. We took a local bus yesterday, because our bus south failed to show up at all. We took a local bus south of Hue, and that was an awesome experience. We pissed on the side of the road, and people were getting on the bus with shopping bags full of homemade foods, someone brought their dog (for food or companionship, I don't know), and we had a good time. But, once we got into Danang, we had a miserable time. Our last bus had already left, so we had no choice but to rent a private car, and we were hounded by touts for a while.
Hoi Anh is a pretty cool place, but it's incredibly touristy and expensive. Incredibly. I mean, we ate at an amazingly high class restaurant (a far, far cry from the street stalls in Hanoi), for only about 10 dollars a person. Still cheap by American standards, but incredibly pricey by Vietnamese. It's basically a resort town, and the people here are used to having rich Europeans come through for vacation.

There was a pretty okay bar down the street, though, called "Before and Now." Pop art all over the wall and shit. felt like Conrad's "Burmese Days." A bunch of Europeans paying the locals crazy prices for alcohol, a closed-club for the whites. *shrug* I've always known that I was one of the upper class, comparitavely speaking. But, I've never felt it so accutely. I suppose it's disturbing that I'm not TOTALLY repulsed. Disturbing.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Good Morning, Vietnam!

Well, I didn't think I'd have the time or energy to update this thing at all, but I'm in Hanoi - I think I'm totally in love with the old district - at 7 in the morning. The companions are still sleeping in, but I wanted to go out into the rain, find a nice cafe and have some coffee and read a while. So, you understand, I don't have much time at all.

But, the trip so far has been a comedy of errors. Allow me to elaborate.

I stayed at Bryan's house because he lives near a trainline into Japan. We woke up at 5.30 (after going to bed at 2) to catch our six o'clock train. Trains in Japan are incredibly reliable, often arriving no later than thirty seconds after scheduled time (and they consider that LATE!). Anyway, our train was ONE HOUR late. This never happens in Japan, but of course, the one time a year that it does, I'm depending on it.
The trainride was excrutiating. Inhuman. It was the first time I was on a train that needed people pushers - people standing outside the train doors to physically shove everyone on. I couldn't even stand, so I just relied on my fellow passengers for support. For over an hour. I thought I would puke, pass out, cry, etc. all at the same time. We were one huge ball of humanity, and I'm pretty sure that I accidentally penetrated 2 or 3 people. I definitely had like, 18 weiners touching me throughout the ride. Including Bryan's. Uncomfortable.
When we arrived at the airport, we were rushed through security and led directly onto the plane. I was actually running football-style, with one piece of luggage tucked under on arm, juking around obstacles and people. We made our flight with two minutes to spare.
Once we landed in Bankok (not Phuket as I had stated in the last post - sorry), we had a little time to walk around the airport. I tried to withdraw money from my Japanese account to exchange it into dollars, and guess what? It's the damndest thing. Guess what? Japanese cards only work domestically. Because we were late on the way, I couldn't get a large wad of yen, as planned. And my American account is practically wiped out, because I've just recently made a student-loans payment (my education spoils it again!). So, I have only the money that I usually carry around with me into the local currency - dong.
Yeah. I'm going to write a whole paragraph about dong. It's awesome. I have many thousands of dongs in my pants right now. I've been holding dongs, counting dongs and giving my dongs to strangers, in exchange for goods and services.
Anyway, I have enough dong to ... maybe make it to Saigon? But, it's a far cry from the living-large trip I had planned in my mind.

But, Hanoi is really wonderful. It's raining cats and dogs right now, but I need to duck out and find an indoor cafe somewhere. The old quarter is all the old french archetecture (that wasn't destroyed in the wars), a million mopeds and a lot of friendly people. My first day in Vietnam, despite whatever setbacks we had, had been a wonderful one. And now, for round two.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I'm off.

In 24 hours, I'll be boarding an airplane bound for Phuket and routed from there to Hanoi. We're taking the exact opposite approach of the American military, starting in the communist stronghold of Hanoi and working our way south, toward Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I'm oscilllating between excitement and nervousness, possibly because this is my first real adventure-trip. I mean, coming to Japan was an adventure and a trip, but in a lot of ways, it's not so different from home. I suspect Vietnam will have more in common with America than, say, the surface of the moon, but I'm still expecting more of an adventure than spending a few days in Tokyo. You know what I mean?

Last night, I went to a nearby city to purchase travel insurance. Travel insurance. I don't know why that phrase sounds so strange to my ears. I suppose I never really thought seriously about travelling, and I've never really had much insurance experience. Anyway, the staff was nice enough. My Japanese progressed to the point that I could tell someone what I want, and ask questions ... I just couldn't understand the whole of their answers without the help of a travel dictionary. But, an English-speaking attendant came to the rescue and began to explain the forms and formalities to me.
It was a peculiar experience, discussing the coverage in morbid, broken English. There can be no euphimisms, no beating around the bush. It's all dismemberment this, and knife-wounds-from-robbery that. I had quite a chuckle on my way home.

I realize that's a poor way to leave the blog before this trip. I assure you, it's going to be an awesome time. Paying for insurance is almost certainly going to mean paying for nothing. ...That's how they get ya.

Monday, April 20, 2009

BBQ and Asamayama.

I don't feel like I can give a good update right now. I'm feeling quite stressed, planning and packing to travel to Vietnam at the end of this week. It's not all that bad, but my mind is reeling, and I can't seem to get any of the gears to stick. I'll just give a little update about my excellent weekend, in order to help explain some of the new pictures on my photobucket.
A new, young, female teacher invited Nigel and I to her parents house to have a barbecue on Saturday night. She's just graduated college, and is only one year older than I am. According to traditional Japanese standards, she's still living in her parents' house with her siblings. I think it's a little old-fashioned myself, but in a country that really puts a premium price on space, it does make a huge amount of fiscal sense.
In any case, the food was great, the people were extremely friendly, and beside having an awkward experience with a grilled shellfish (It was really gross; huge and chewy, and I thought I could handle it, until I bit into a pouch full of...shellfish bile? shellfish poop? I don't know...sick...I spit it out, much to everyone's dismay), things were really wonderful. And Nigel and I got to meet some other ALTs, and get to know our new teacher in a friendly way. I've begun to call her ____-chan, rather than _______-sensei, which is a good sign of building a friendly, social-equal relationship. I'm always a little nervous about attaching the familiar "-kun" or "-chan" to my Japanese friend's names, but I'm getting the hang of the practice, and am happy to use it correctly. For those of you not in the know, -chan is attached the to surname of female close friends (and really close male friends), while -kun is attached to social inferior males (in the workplace, etc.) as well as to young male friends, while -san is the formal "Mr." or "Mrs." that you're all familiar with.

And the next day, I was off the Gunma-ken and Nagano-ken (the home of some winter Olympics or other) with S-Lan (my friend, and polar opposite of the horrible L-San), Big Tree Lady (Her name is Japanese is basically "Big Tree" and she's really nice), and Nigel (my British arch-nemesis/comrade). I kept getting car sick, though I never barfed. Just the horrible sick-stomach feeling, rising and falling in my throat.
But, we headed to Big Tree Lady's cabin, which was modern yet tradiationally Japanese in style and size. I've grown to really enjoy Japanese archetecture, from the rural to the urban, from the mountain to the seaside. It's all different and all really interesting. It's very clean, airy and spacey on the inside (the more tatami mats, the better!), yet from the outside, it's often very stuffy and boxy-looking. I guess it's the dichotomy that interests me. And maybe it is symbolic of my experience in Japan; something can look so rigid and unaccomadating from the outside, but once inside, it's open and comfortable even if a little aesthetically different.
Well, anyway, we ate more barbecue for lunch on a porch overlooking a steep mountainside, and afterward went to a national park, where a volcano (Asamayama) had created a lava field in the 18th century. The lava-field was an incredibly surreal place, and there was, of course, a Buddhist temple at the summit of the lava-field, overlooking the surrounding valley. It was a little touristy, but I really enjoy any kind of temple and the placement seemed pretty nice.
The coolest part was that Asamayama just erupted two weeks ago! All day, I was wondering why things looked so foggy, but it was smoke and ash still being emitted from Asamayama into the valley. I took pictures!

This Friday, I'm off to Vietnam. I might have time to update once before then, but I make no promises. If not, Au Revoir. I will take photos.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Names and Places.

I was thinking the other day about how confusing Japanese names can be within an English-speaking context. It's an interesting fact that Japan's English-speaking skills are among the lowest in Asia, despite the American influence since the post-World War II era. If you look at an itemized list, Japan ranks just above Mongolia and just under every other country in Asia in terms of average English level. Despite ALTs like myself in Japan for more than 20 years, the level is still lower than other major Asian countries. And I began to wonder ... maybe it was because of the names?

Take for example a few common female names: Ai, Yuu, Mi, Mai. Ai (I), Yuu (You), Mi (Me) and Mai (My) are pretty common among the girls I'm teaching in Jr. High. In Japanese, you don't conjugate verbs for person or gender, so encountering a linguistic system that does has got to be difficult in the first place, but with these specific names, it can be near impossible to conjugate correctly, or get a sense of the English system.

For example: Mai's dog likes Yuu. Yuu is a Dr. Yuu is Mi's father. Mi likes Ai. Ai is Mai's dog.

Exactly. No wonder we have students saying "You's likes Me's shoes?" and other such nonsense.

On another note altogether, Big-Mouth-sensei is quite the character. I'm not sure that I've properly introduced him, however. Apparently, he's very wealthy, and he loves to tell everyone about it. If I ask him how his lunch was, he'll reply "IT WAS VERY CHEAP! I DIDN'T LIKE IT!" Of course, if it was expensive, it was delicious. Such is the mind of Big-Mouth-sensei.

The fact that he is constantly yelling (many theories have been bandied about; some say he is partially deaf, others claim that he enjoys the sounds of his voice so much that he thinks everyone else in shouting-range must, too) is funny enough. But, he's got a wonderful store about a former student that always leaves me in stitches.

There was a former student who used to have a fondness for other people's weiners. By a few accounts, he always managed to sneak a handful of manhood from the former ALTs or Japanese teachers. Luckily, I've mostly escaped such behavior during my tenure in and about my town, but this particular student was notorious for it. Anyway, Big-Mouth-sensei was trying to describe it to me in his peculiar way of speaking English, and could only manage to say "HE BEAT MY PENIS! HE ... WOULD ... BEAT IT!" at a volume that all in the teacher's room could hear. And, while the average level of English is fairly low, there were a few English teachers around. In addition, the word "penis" has been transliterated into Japanese, and everyone is aware of what it means. Granted, Big-Mouth-sensei meant to say that this student was a little rough with the equipment in his perverted attempts, but sometimes, rather than something being lost in the translation, sometimes a little something can get picked up; it often makes for a good laugh.