Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Getting drunk with your boss really relieves some tension and can be a good way to get the lowdown on gossip that you wouldn't otherwise get in the office. I never would have heard, "Oh Tsuchiya, he's just a piece of shit and Tsukada, he's even worse because he hates the other guy for it." Tsuchiya is the president of the parent company for my school. Tsukada is the guy we cal Bucho which means boss or supervisor. He's the ass who gives everyone directions, except for me because I don't speak no Japanese.
I also heard, "I hate that fucking place. I'll get out of there as soon as possible."
To which i responded, "Well, Tomo, thanks for getting me to sign on for another year, you ass."

Tomo also asked me to clue him in whenever I find weed here. He was reminiscing about his time in Holland as a Teppanyaki chef, a job that he had to leave because he got the head cook's wife pregnant.

Overall a great night.
I talked to a Republican last night. We were at a bar and we were drinking and eating gross japanese bar food (somehow even greasier than American bar food) and we got to talking about stuff. It was interesting, not only because he professed to have bested my boss in a contest to sleep with the most international "varieties" of women, but because he claimed that his father donates $20 every month to put Reagan's face up on Rushmore. I was totally agog that one of the guys that I believe was one of the worst presidents of the past century (at least in the bottom 50%) would be nominated to be placed on Mt. Rushmore. Believe it or not, it really exists folks, there is an organization to put Ronnie's face on the rock. While I was a little bit young to remember much of the Reagan years (aside from playing in the backyard and running around with Mom's leotard on).

Anyway, while the Reagan discussion was a little bit nutty the most interesting thing to come out of it was the idea that Clinton inherited the economic legacy of Reagan and that we really have Reagan to thank for the boom of the 90's rather than Clinton. While I personally believe that Clinton's presidency was merely coincidentally the same time as the Dot com boom, I'd never heard anyone give credit to Reagan before. Does anyone have opinions on this? Right now I think that Reagan was a terrible president and I don't believe that the massive tax cuts under Bush and Reagan do any good whatsoever but I just want to cover my bases.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Doug, don't let any future employers read this! Your job may be forefit, at least as an english teacher. As script writer, you're top notch!

I have two dreams to share with you:
1. I have part of a star trek team. We beam down to a
planet's surface and found a deserted civilization and
society hollowed out of its biological
components--meaning many of the mechanosphere
components of the society such as the infrastructure
and robots still functioned. The problem is some
sinister monster which ate everyone. It was quite
gruesome, but the feeling was not really explainable
as much of the feeling came from the suspense.
Luckily, we had a counter-snake with deadly beak, but
I had to break protocol to deemploy it. It was some
sort of interglacial bio-contagion itself. In the end
chomped, our beast the offending monster. But not
without what felt like hours of the two beasts
circling each other.

2. I was in Japan with you and we had wild wet wacky
sex. Actually, we were in a car power by petro and
electricity. There were all this snow banks and we
couldn't get through them without taking a running go
at them. So we're forced to bust through not knowing
what the traffic was like on the other side. We always
came out spinning and twirling, righting ourselves to
dodge yet another near collision, just to lose control
again. There were many snow banks. Then suddenly, you
were gone and the half the car sloughed or slid off,
and I was left with two wheeled vehicle, which on
completion hade morphed into a hybrid electric-pedal
power bike. It was fast and I was in a race. But the
bike had one drawback, it was heavy because the
electric parts. It was still snowy and I was doing
some heavy downhill mountain biking. I could have used
a nimbler cycle. It was intense, so many close calls
and on many occasions, I was forced to get way out
there, leaning way over the bike, to right it or
over-correct. Then without transition, like a radical
conjoining, I was cycling through a super-market in
Japan; all the staff was yelling 'they're already
here' in Japanese. I knew I had to grab chopped
vegetables and dip them while cycling en route to the
finish line--where I arrived first.

Take Care,

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Jennifer and I went out to eat on Friday for lunch and we ate at a Thai place. We got a set meal which included little sprigs of cilantro in the soup and as a garnish. This was a nice touch since Jennifer and I have been searching for Cilantro ever since we got here. Jennifer asked the waiter, who happened to have great english, where they got it and thereby we discovered the only Thai grocery store in town.
The store is not so much bigger than our apartment which is not so much bigger than my family's living room to begin with. THey do have all the requisite foods including fresh Basil and fresh Cilantro. We bought a fat amount of cilantro and I whipped up some damn fine salsa with it. Jennifer was inspired to try to make falafel with the cilantro but as it turns out, she can be just as stupid as the rest of us. She was whipping up some home made tahini with the Braun stick blender so thougtfully and lovingly brought over by Harry, Jean and Kelly. Tahini is sticky so she was cleaning the blade out with her finger when she thought that it would be a good idea to buzz the power switch and whack her finger pretty good with the wonderfully sharp blades.

The short story is: She bled a lot and now is fine, her finger is glued shut with an appropriate skin adhesive.

It's been a good week in Lake Nowhere-near Lake Wobegone.
This past week was an interesting one at work. The kids classes, as i mentioned, weren't as bad as I expected and I actually got a chance to talk to my boss a lot. I think that maybe he's trying to make me happy as I'm the only fulltime guy now that my co-worker got fired and is out of here now. The other native speaker is an argumentative New Yorker who doesn't mind showdowns with Japanese culture. "If you want me to come to work next Thursday, you need to tell me my schedule now." THat sort of stuff doesn't really fly so well here.

Anyway, since I'm the only guy there full time now, my boss sat me down and offered me a raise and a contract until next year in April. If you'd have asked me on monday about it, i would have said, "Hell No!" but after eating dinner with the woman who had my job before me and bitching about all of the various bitchable things, my job miraculously improved. The office attitude was more convivial, my japanese co-workers seemed friendlier and the classes went just fine.

After talking with my boss a lot this week, my biggest question is, "How come he still acts like a boring Japanese guy half the time?"
I heard him say shisse (sp?) which is German for "shit" as he was grousing about something and i responded, "Wow, you must know swear words in 5 different languages."
"Yeah, maybe 7," he responded.

In addition to living in Holland for 2 years as a teppanyaki chef following his college which was spent in the US and in Japan, he lived in Spain for a year working somewhere, i don't know where and here's the kicker; My tiny japanese boss lived on a kibbutz near Tel Aviv for a year where he studied Hebrew and farmed vegetables.

"Yeah, I was 26 but most of the Swedish girls were about 18 or 19. What a crazy time. Sometimes you would wake up and look at the person next to you and say, 'Who the hell is that?' I should bring in pictures of me with my long hair and earring."

That's crazy shit if ever I've heard it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

"I was born a long time ago as barley, a child of the sun. Chosen to become malt, I was smoked in peat and milled in distilleries nestled in the mountains. Joining with crystal clear water, I was given a new breath of life with Yeast and distilled slowly in an old pot still. Then I trickled down, cold and transparent as ice, yet with a flavor as strong as fire. I was then put in an oak barrel which became my cradle. Soothed by the gentle lullaby of Japan's changing seasons, I slept many years, mellowing and maturing into a rich amber color. Now my time has finally come, and I have been reborn in my very own bottle of 8 year old malt whisky."

This is a direct quote from the bottle I'm now drinking. When a product speaks to you as eloquently as this one, you just have to buy it. The whiskey is actually pretty good. Definitely with a "flavor as strong as fire."
I should shut up with the bitching, as i was recently reminded that NINJAS ARE TOTALLY SWEET! They can flip out and totally kill someone any time they want to and they don't even give a crap about it. I totally forgot about this reality and have been bitching waaaaaay too much for any ninja to put up with. Thank god that even here in Japan they are quite rare.
This week was posed to be quite a bitch because of the kids "English Roundup" sort of thing that we're doing to boost sales of our product (me jumping around speaking English). I was pretty stressed about it all weekend and I had to do a lot more prep work than I was accustomed to do. Honestly, the kids class wasn't as bad as I expected. I ended up actually having fun. Strangely enough there's something nice about having little kids crawling all over you and worshipping your every word. It's a little like being president I think. The kids pretty much do what you say and respect you, but occasionally you have to call in an airstrike or something. I actually didn't have to regulate on anyone for the past two days. There are two classes, one for little kids, age 3-8 and then there's another one for kids a little bit older maybe 8-12. Believe it or not, the younger kids are a little bit more fun. They have got almost no selfconsciousness, they'll do whatever I tell them, assuming they understand. They must be in awe of the first person over 6 feet tall they've seen. I also have a beard, the beard gives me power.

I was, however, reminded by Yasuko, my partner in the kids classes, that touching kids is a really good way to get myself a case of head lice, known to the average gradeschooler as cooties. I must remember to wash thoroughly after handling Japanese youth.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

More added to the doug post.
Goddamn what dread I had this morning. I can hardly remember a time that I didn't want to go to work quite so badly as today. Last week was sucky, and this week promises more of the same. I would have probably preferred to be barfing my guts out sick than working this morning at 9:00. True to form, however, it wasn't so bad once I got into it, but it still sucks to go into a week with the attitude that you'd rather commit murder than teach another class.

With luck I'll be a little happier when my paycheck rolls around. Money for services rendered is all I'm counting on, but at least I can buy happiness with it. I certainly have been trying. I think since I can't find so much enjoyment in my work week, I definitely do a bit more spending and splurging to reward myself for another week endured. In fact, I'm about to go buy some brake pads for my bicycle as a way to make up for this morning's dread and disgust. Actually, these are not really a luxury, any more than adequate stopping of one's bicycle is a luxury, but they'll make me feel better, just like the guitar strings did yesterday and the beer the day before.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

hah, i just irritated the neighbors by playing my sad music loudly. How about that
All you all should probably brace yourself for some pessimistic posts in the near future.

For the record, i don't want to go home, at least not all the time. I'm just getting tired of the bullshit associated with not knowing what the hell is being said all around me. I've gotten pretty tolerant, but realistically it's no picnic.

Today was another shitty day, though better than yesterday, mostly because I didn't have to work today. Work is crap. It ought to be abolished. I suppose that if it were fun they wouldn't call it work though.
Anyway, today i went skiing in Hakuba, a luxury since I am currently the proud operator of a borrowed car. I kept forgetting little things. For example, where was my money? How much gas is left? Can I make it up this hill with so little fuel? I also kept making huge tactical errors. For example, I went to the less populated side of the Goryu-Toomi resort so that it was much more difficult to score the cheap used passes like I did for newyears. I also decided to break my 10000 yen note by buying a curry, I needed to have 1500 yen on hand so that I could buy one of these tickets off of someone as they returned to the deposit refund machine. Unfortunately, i picked a dish that returned me 90150 yen from my bill, leaving me bereft of the go-hyaku en piece. Stupid choice. So i needed to get more change so i walked past the change machine, the one that costs nothing to change your bill into coins, and purchased a beer that I didn't want. Stupid me. Then i went out to see if i could scalp a ticket. No, no apparently I can't, i just look like an ass as people refuse me for reasons i can't understand. Stupid white skin.

Now for the good part. The new skis that I got are totally awesome. In combination with the new bindings, they're just about a million times better than the old stuff. I can actually cut some turns. I can actually look like a telemark skiier. When next winter rolls around and the powder snow piles up, i'm going to be ready, oh you'd better believe I'm going to be ready. It will be such a great thing to start as an intermediate skiier rather than an absolute beginner.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Christ almighty, i have had a long week. I'm just not meant for 12 hour days at work. It's not that I hate the students or really my co workers. It's just that 12 hours is just like perpetual teaching. I'm only awake for maybe 17 hours a day maximum. That's not enough time for me thanks. While i'm not actually "working" those 12 hours, in fact i'm only paid for the hours that I teach which could be maybe 4 on a given day, they miraculously seem all spaced out to kill the maximal amount of free time in a given day. Thank god that most of the people i teach are interesting people. I'd probably buy a ticket home if it were a bunch of whiney-ass higschool students for 12 hours a day. This job is really making me think hard about what I can personally do with my life. Importantly, it's giving me a good perspective on what I don't want to do. Principally, i don't want to work someplace where the management has such shitty communication with the employees. For example, I didn't know until today that I'd be teaching children's classes next week from 10 or so in the morning and i still don't know my schedule for next year (april 1) yet. It's not like I haven't asked for clarification. I've asked 3 times for them to share my shedule for next year and as of yet, nothing.

Here's another thing that rubbed me the wrong way at work: About 4:00 I was sitting with Yasuko, a co-worker talking about what the hell we'll do with the little kids next week when my boss calls up someone and asks in English, "Hey, how are you, do you know whose white honda is in back?"
I responded that it was mine, jennifer borrowed a car from some friends who are out of the country, and that she had dropped it off for me earlier.
He quickly hung up the phone and said, "It's yours? Well we were wondering whose car it is all day, the neighbors said that some gaijin got out of it and left it there. You should apologize to the manager, he's a little pissed."

Speaking of a little pissed, this was certainly not the appropriate time to bitch at me. Not after recently firing my co-worker for no real reason, stacking me with tons of work this week and then asking me to pull more 12 hour days next week. Why the fuck would I have to apologize for parking my car in the back when students and teachers alike all park their cars in back. Nobody should have gotten pissed, they didn't even ask me or anyone else for that matter they just got all steamed up in their crappy little japanese way. Nothing doing my man, no apology from me, particularly since the dude doesn't speak any english. I'm not trying to be so english-centric, but realistically, i work with a bunch of english teachers, you'd think that one of them would at least be able to ask around in 2 damn languages whose car it was, particularly if there were foreigners getting out of it as reported by the snoopy neighbors.

Anyway, enough of the bitching. It's just been a long time since i've unwound. With jennifer's family here, there's been almost 0 private time, particularly as Doug was here for the previous 5 days to their visit. I love them all, but I need my damn space occasionally.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Jennifer and kelly are on the couch. Jean is on the floor. For the past 10 minutes kelly and jean have been going back and forth about various things. This all started as a conversation about the guy taking care of their some what senile grandmother who's staying at their house.

"Mom, what are you paying him?"

"I don't want to get into it, dont' go there"

"I'm just curious."

"You'll just take it personally, I don't want to get into it, it's none of your business."

"I won't get bent out of shape, i'm just curious."

"Well, i don't get paid for work that I do."

"You don't really do much work at all."

"Mom, you're making me angry, you don't know how hard i work."

"Well, every time you come home you avoid hard work like the plague."

"No, every time I go home i do some work, like washing dishes or something."

"What about hard labor."

"What is hard labor anyway?"

"You could have gone out in the backyard and dug a ditch with Ian and Aaron last year."

"I just didn't want to."

et cetera...

This is not unusual, but all the better for happening in my living/dining/bed room.
Families are lovely, but sometimes, particularly the times that they're so close, we can't really appreciate them. This is particularly true when they're being belligerent in my somewhat larger than a bread box apartment. Scratch that, it's not my apartment, it's the apartment that i'm sharing with my girlfriend and her wonderfully eccentric family, and their home life. Often, and I'm sure this is true for me, but folks just don't want to step back and say, damn i'm one stupid ass right now. What the hell good am i doing in this argument. Next time i'm being stupid like that, someone smack me in the face please.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

The paucity of posts recently is due in some part to the arrival of my most talkative former roomate: Douglas Potter. Doug arrived with style, panache and about 150 pounds of baggage on Thursday night. It was great. I really loved bending my spine under the weight of his backpack which was filled with books ( half of them in swedish, half english, many of them math books), home-made banana chips, reusable extra heavy duty Danish coke bottles, a battery charger, several torn sweatshirts, 2 bags of Mate tea, 2 kg lentils, and of course the crown jewels, over 400 prophylactics to be split between Doug and Alf. Within about 15 minutes of touchdown the guy was sprawled out on approximately 1/3 of our total floor space with his luggage and food stuffs.

I don't know quite what it is about that guy, but he always has an interesting perspective on life and is particularly verbose about it.

We did the standard stuff, he visited Zenkoji temple, looked at some shrines, ate conveyor belt sushi and some ramen at a restaurant. Friday Doug came to watch one of my classes and apparently my boss wasn't the most pleased by this because while i was teaching the following private lesson Doug managed to get kicked out of the employees area. This is not really how i had hoped it would go. Personally, if i were a student i would be interested in learning from a different person, particularly if it gave me a little more personal time to practice. As it was, the class he visited had a 1 to 1 teacher student ratio, and what could be better than that. I suppose i did make a tactical error in not asking my boss the day before. I had hoped that he would be in the office before class so that he could give the ok, but I assumed that since Alf visited classes, it would have been ok for Doug to do so as well.

Doug came also to Nozawa Onsen. He was unfortunately unable to participate in the Skiing part of the day, he just stuck around the town and managed to get himself into one of the many onsens that spot the town. He was quite amuzed to get into a tub with a bunch of leathery old japanese guys and tell them about his life story, the politics of modern and historical Sweden and what japanese food he likes. The place eventually cleared out and one of the old guys suddenly whipped out his gimongous camera and took a picture of the spa's nameplate from 1 meter away. The old man proceeded to amaze doug with his cinematographic skill as he produced a digital video recorder and went to work filming the steaming interior of the onsen. Doug was impressed both by the cameras and the weirdness. I was shocked to hear niether. I live in a country of strange people. They do strange things. They think nothing of it. End of story.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Some of my perkier students posed the question to me last week, "Do you want japanese friends?"
My knee jerk reaction was, "Of course I do, don't be rididculous." But I really had to think about it for a while afterwards. I would like to think that I'm a really open, cultually sensitive and accepting guy, but as it turns out, i have relatively few Japanese friends here. Of people who are not my students or co-workers, I can count probably 3 or 4 people on my "Japanese Friend" list. I started thinking about the reasons for this and here is what i came up with as excuses:
1. I am shy. I tend not to make many new friends outside of my daily activities even back home. I'm not particularly gregarious by nature and that's accentuated by being in a foreign country.
2. I don't smoke. Smoking is always a social refuge for people, and particularly in Japan where so many people smoke all the time. Plus, my desire not to smell like smoke often prevents me from going to places like bars where one can more readily meet local people.
3. I have a girlfriend. This gives me an incentive to go home at night rather than prowling around looking for girls at night after work. Also, I tend to eat at home a lot and I turn down some plans because they're inconvenient to do with Jennifer.
4. I work. My hours are constantly chainging week by week. My only sure thing is that I'll be at work no later than 9:30 pm. This kind of kills many of the social things that I might engage in otherwise, such as classes, japanese lessons or evening plans with the normally employed workforce, japanese or otherwise.

That said, i honestly consider some of my students and co-workers to be friends. When you meet someone weekly or more frequently and shoot the shit over various topics, you tend to develop some sort of friendship that to me is more than just that of a student/teacher sort. I would be happy to spend time with many of my students outside of the classroom setting, however, my contract specifically bars such meetings. Well shit. I guess I'll probably end up a lonely, isolated foreigner in a sea of japanese faces.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Japan may well be the land of the facial protruberances. I've seen more freaky moles, warts and skin bumps here than at any time in my personal history. I don't know exactly what it is, but you'll find warts and huge moles on people all over the place. Highschool girls who in the US would freak at the idea of having one of these dudes clinging to their epidermis casually apply their makeup around them. Old women and men seem to grow volcanic masses on their faces. Shane and i saw one in tokyo that was quite honestly the same diameter as a penny and about a centimeter and a half tall. It looked like something out of Hansel and Gretel or The Wizard of Oz.
It's possible that people here have the same occurrence of moles and warts as the western population and simply don't bother to get them removed. However, i find that completely odd because the japanese are incredibly image conscious, at least as conscious as Americans and probably more so. They also go to the hospital for the slightest health problem. For the common cold, that may require two or three visits to the hospital. My best guess is that the japanese must find them benign from a beauty standpoint, or at least not care about them too much. Maybe they even find that attractive, however far fetched that may be.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

There's a real dichotomy when you see a guy wearing a super nice suit and then tennis shoes or bedroom slippers. All of the men and women were decked to the nines and yet there was that one glaring inconsistency. Since they always take off their shoes before entering school to switch into their indoor shoes, usually crappy 100yen things or some sort of sneaker. I saw maybe 2 guys today who had nice shoes on, the rest were wearing fuzzy, floofy things. It just doesn't jive.
I've been to boring-ass graduations, mine included, but the one I attended today was by far the worst one i've ever been to. I showed up and the students were lined up in one of the two gyms to head into the other gym where they had their chairs all set up. I was ushered in to sit in a seat next to the door to watch the whole proceedings from the comfort of my suit and tie. THis is the only time i've worn the suit and tie since coming here. Admitedly, i've tied more neckties in the 4 months here than in my entire previous existence, but that's beside the point. THe english teacher came up to me and said, "THank you for coming, today will be in a traditional Japanese style, enjoy." I was intrigued at this point, maybe there would be someting interesting afterall.
The seniors all marched into the auditorium to some cheesy piano tune that i could recognise but not place. They were just wearing their school uniforms and so, looked exactly as they did every other day of their semi-adult lives (they wear the uniforms every day except sunday). THis was a big mistake from my perspective, there was no particular dignity for these girls, they just looked normal in their little sailor outfits and knock knees. Then through a series of bows, standing, sitting and instructions of various types, we passed a good 2.5 hours sitting and listening to various people drone on through the ceremony about how auspicious and great their class is. I don't know this for a fact because i understood only about 25 words the whole time, i'm just assuming. They read off all of the names in the class, about 100 total, and then instead of handing each student her diploma, they gave the wad of them to certain students to be distributed in some other way. I guess that's ok, if you want to stress that the group is more important than individual achievements, but realistically, i felt that the students were cheated. They had no gowns to wear, no stupid hats, no annoying tassels, none of the really good things about graduation. They aren't even really finished with school, they're going on a class trip to Vancouver in the middle of April and they'll hang out all summer. Some of the girls were a little teary eyed, but i can only imagine what it would have been like if it had been a really good graduation, or even a mediocre ceremony instead of some hack-job in the gym.

Oh well, i got a nicely prepared box of glutinous rice and chestnuts out of the deal.

Monday, March 01, 2004

I watched "Spirited Away" last night (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi in Japanese) by Hayao Miyazaki. Follow the link for a more detailed plotline if you're interested. The basic story, and this should be easy to follow since it's totally screwball is as follows:
A young girl with crabby uncaring parents goes through a tunnel and comes out in the onsen village for the spirit world. Her parents start gorging themselves on spirit food and become pigs. She then has to save them for working for the witch who runs the onsen and whose spell turns them into the porkers. In the onsen she meets a boatload of freaky dudes, dudettes, birds, bats, and various "Japan Only" things that I've never even considered before. She has to pay her way by working hard and earning the right to free her parents. Eventually she helps various strange spirits and creatures and find peace/relaxation whatever and discovers her identity and that true love can conquer all.
While I can't say what the dialogue was like in the original Japanese, the English edition was nothing short of sappy. I've generally got the idea that Japanese is a pretty sappy language if taken literally, with all it's honorifics, pleases and thankyous and poetic symbolism, it probably doesn't translate well... either that or it's a nation of sentimental dweebs.
At any rate, I found the movie principally interesting from the graphical standpoint, as the main characters all said annoying things in annoying voices. Graphically, the movie was really intriguing, principally for the way the director used the traditional anime features, such as complex subject framing and panning shots as well as interesting angles. I also really appreciated the attention to detail in the subject matter, for example the way that Sen, the main character, stops to put on her shoes before chasing after her friend. Not only does she do it in a realistic manner, she does it in a way that is particularly japanese. However, the storyline was quite strange and not a little cheesy. True, it is a cartoon, and one geared for all ages, but the "true love conqers all" theme is pretty trite. I wouldn't have watched the whole thing if it had merely been western style characters, but the incidentals, the bit characters and the background were so strange and foreign, I had to watch so as not to miss anything. If this guy were American, everyone would have to assume that he were taking heavy doses of some psycotropic drugs, either that or a schizophrenic. It was just that bizarre from my standpoint. While I'm sure that it's regarded as a fanciful film here, i wonder just how strange it is to the average japanese adult.