Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Been busy the past few days or so. Went to Tokyo for my friend Kevin's birthday. It was about a forty minute train ride there. Not too bad, really, and the train system seems really easy to use, though once you're in Tokyo it's a bit disorienting. I've been in a lot of bigger cities now, in the states that is, and none of them are like Tokyo, which is super clean (in my opinion) and nothing but lights lights lights, and strangely dressed young hipsters and sharply cut black suited businessmen, and buildings with buildings inside them, it seems.

We went to see the car of the future, and to Najmatown, which is an amusement park located in a sixty floor shopping center called Sunshine City. I didn't realize how much this culture folds in on itself. Origami makes total sense to me now, because it seems everything in Japan, especially in Tokyo, is folded and folded and folded again, until something beautiful and strange is made of it. Namjatown is literally an amusement park that winds and twists through various corridors made up to look like an ancient version of Japanese streets with food vendors and little shopping stores and rides, like another version of Disneyland, only lots of cute Hello Kitty type characters instead. My friend Beth took pictures, so maybe she will post them to her website soon, and when and if she does, I'll link to them. The highlight of Namjatown was going into the scariest haunted house I've been in ever. It was the creepiest, because you are given an spider with a woman's face to hold, and it shines a light out of her carapace for you to see through the halls of the haunted house. You have to sit the spiderwoman on certain lanterns to light them up for clues too, and look for certain hiragana characters that you have to remember for when you exit, because they add up to a secret word that will save the life of a cat you are trying to save who is being held captive by a demon in the pits of hell. Seriously, you hear the cat crying throughout the haunted house, and more than once I was literally jumping backwards from surprise scary stuff that happened. One unscary and possibly shocking but hilarious sight was being midway through the haunted house and being shown a video of the cat being roasted on a spit in hell, yowling, and the demon laughing. The Japanese are so wacky.

Did you know at gas stations here, after you have filled up your tank, the fuel tank allows you to play a slot machine type game, and if you win, you get free fuel. Everywhere you look here, there are games built into everything. My cell phone has a Winnie the Pooh game on it, which is slightly annoying. And also all the cell phones here have cameras built into them as a common feature. And the weirdest thing of all is that the cell phones have the capability to send an infrared light back and forth to each other to transfer data from cell to cell. So when my friend Kevin had a phone number I wanted, he pointed his phone at mine, pressed the correct buttons to select the number and turn on the infrared, and beamed that person's phone number to me, just like that. Crazy crazy stuff.

Tomorrow I start school. A bit nervous, but I figure it'll all be cool after I figure out what exactly the teachers there want out of me. I have a better idea of what's expected from me at the elementary schools on Thursdays. The junior high where I teach the other four days seems still pretty vague.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Japan 1, Barzak 0.

A couple of night ago, I went to my first karaoke bar with Kevin and Beth and Megumi and Takayoshi. Let me just say, humbly, that the Japanese know their shit. Takayoshi and Megumi can sing English songs better than English speaker. Megumi did a hella good Never Ending Story, and Takayoshi, well let' just say Journey never knew a better lead singer. Japan: 1, Barzak: 0. Especially after Takayoshi's Cars Just What I Needed. Which I followed up with another Cars song, You Might Think, and I think we equicovated, but Takatoshi was better in general, I must admit, and will give him this win.

Tonight, though, we went karokeing again and I beat this shit out of Takayoshi with my Divinyls I Touch Myself and TLC Unpretty, as well as Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want to Have Fun, so we are back Japan 1, Barzak 1. And will stay there till the next karaoke event passes. I feel like I'm in the Olympics here, so cheer and believe that the USA can surpass the Japanese in Karaoke. I will soak it all in and test Takayoshi in our next event. I am holding my Four Non Blondes card to spring on him as a surprise. Little does he know the power of deep base Amerikan gaijin. Journey and The Cars be damned. I will pull out Love Shack when it's needed.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Pictures, as promised.

An outside shot of my apartment house.
Ahban Haitsu

A view of the field and cemetary in the distance from my back balcony.
Balcony View

A view of the apartment houses from my front balcony.
Other Balcony

A shot of my kitchen, and another angle of the kitchen.
Kitchen 2

My bedroom, and another angle of it.Bedroom
Bedroom 2

My living room, and a second angle of it.
Living Room
Living Room 2

At intersections on the road, you use these mirrors when you need to see if any cars are coming from the other directions. Here is another angle, and you can see me in this one, I think. They're actually really great once you get used to looking for cars in them, rather than turning your head back and forth, especially when there are high hedges right at a corner, which there are a lot of here.
Mirror 2
Mirror 3

A neighboring house, my neighbors farm one and two, which I run past every day, and a view of the farmer's house itself.
Farm 2
Neighbor House

This road leads to my apartment complex. I run down it, cross the road, run past this house, and down this wooded trail. Inside the woods, there is this shrine, and people leave money and little trinkets on it like this (which I did for you Amber) and here is another view of the shrine as well.
Running Trail
Shrine 2
Shrine 3

Oh, a picture through a gap in my neighbor's wall.
Neighbor Wall

Ah, the cemetary which is next door to my apartment complex, and another view of it.
Cemetary 2

A picture of some bamboo growing in one section of my running trail.

My friend Beth's website, which has or will have some pics from our Tokyo Disney trip on it.

Okay, that's it for now. I'll start taking pictures of people and other places now that I've gotten some of the immediate vicinity of where I live done.

Also, I realize now after posting this once that I didn't link the pics correctly. I'm too tired to go back and feed them into the text, so please accept this messier version.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Today was easy and not easy at the same time. No matter what fun I think Im going to be having doing something, it inevitably gets a bit dampened by not being able to communicate properly. Today Hiromi took me to get health insurance (very easy). Then we went shopping at a music/dvd/book store. I had the most difficult time, though, trying to find any music I wanted because I simply couldnt figure out the system of categorization. I recognize all the symbols, and can read them, but theres something off. Its not completely alphabetical here because so much of the Japanese is spelled phonetically and that doesnt mean the character youre looking for is always the correct letter I think Im trying to make an analogue with. American thinking, as usual. I kept asking Hiromi to find things for me, and then she and the workers at the store had a hard time understanding even some of the bands I was asking for, even though two of them were Japanese. Sorry, I almost wrote was Japanese. Sorry all you spelling and grammar freaks, I am quickly losing my mind here, and my language is already really weirding me out. I was writing an email to the Blue Heaven group earlier and sort of got stuck on one sentence because I suddenly just couldnt think of how to phrase what I meant to say. My brain is fried from trying to listen and understand the Japanese surrounding me.

Anyway, I eventually found one of the cds I wanted on my own, ironically. ITs a Japanese group called Nitro Microphone Underground. They rock. Look for them online on Amazon or if you can download a song or something. Really good stuff. Anyway, as I was waiting in line, the good thing happened to redeem all of my frustration. A little boy around ten years old, maybe 8 or 9, came up to me and waved and said, Hello! Then he started talking in Japanese, and Hiromi started to translate. He is studying English, she said, and wants to talk to you. So I bent down and in Japanese would say simple phrases like, Genki desu ka? and then say it in English, How are you? and he would simple and repeat my english and then wed move on to something else. Hajimemashite, I am glad to meet you. We exchanged names then, and how to ask for them. His name was Tokimude, which Hiromi says is a Samurai name. We both agreed he was totemo kawai, cute as hell, and Hiromi said she thinks I am going to be a very good teacher for the children. When we were getting into her car, Tokimude kept watching out the store window, then he came out into the parking lot and waved, and I waved, and then we started to drive out, and I looked over my shoulder and he waved some more, with both hands, real large waves, and I waved back again. It really made me look forward to teaching next week.

Since I moved here, Ive been dreaming about my best friend from grade school, Michael. I dont know why. I havent thought about him in ages, but he keeps popping up in dreams. My friend Beth (who I was in my Masters degree program in Youngstown with, and who lives a few minutes away from me here and teaches English also) said she dreams a lot about being in junior high or high school since she moved here. I wonder if its regression to the womb or some sort of metaphor for feeling childlike again, without as many words to paste all over the things around you. Kevin, Beths husband, says he thinks were just jettisoning old materials to make room for the new. Maybe its both. I hate to think of dreams as garbage disposal.

This morning I woke up with the song Bridge of Troubled Water stuck in my head. Strangely enough, one of the imports they had at the music store was the best hits of Simon and Garfunkel. Dont know what the bridge over troubled water thing was about. I feel really disoriented in a lot of ways.

Highlight from yesterday that I forgot to mention: My boss at the meeting with the board of education suddenly breaking out of his Japanese and looking at me and laughing really hard and saying, In Japan, we have many gods! God for everything! hahahahaha. Then going back into his spiel of Nihongo with the board. I just laughed heheh, and smiled uncertainly. Still dont know what that was about.

Also yesterday, that cheery round cheeked Japanese teacher who said we would drink lots together suddenly breaking out of a Japanese conversation with my caretakers to say, We know where you live. You have to do it with a Japanese accent to realize how scary it sounded, even though I know she meant it in a friendly way. hehe.

Anonymous blog posters, please sign your posts so I can know who loves me. There is the love and the no live list. You should make sure youre on the love list if you know whats good for you. hehe.

I will be posting pictures tonight I believe. See ya later.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A long long day. Am very frustrated and still apostropheless. I just spent the last seven hours meeting the Edosaki Board of Education, plus the principle of the junior high where Ill be teaching four days a week. Plus the five teachers there that speak english. Plus the principles and there assistants at the five elementary schools where Ill be teaching one day a week (each school gets me once a month, and one misses me every four months). My caretakers Hiromi and Kazuko came with me and did most of the talking. Lots of bowing. Lots of who can bow deeper, and who can say gozaimashita more than the others. Lots of tea. There is an ocha (tea) serving woman at each school. Thats her job, she just comes in and serves tea, backing out after shes done, bowing bowing, sumimasen. I said the same five sentences at each place, and only improvised a few things at a few of the schools. Everyone was impressed I could speak any Japanese at all. That was good. But each school meeting took forever. The Japanese often sit and ponder before they say the next thing. They dont attempt to fill silence. There are no awkward silences here unless its intended, and those are more evident. So with all of the pauses it took forever to meet everyone. I kept getting warned that the elementary school kids will want to hug me a lot and touch me because I am Gaijin, and again the blue eyes. So I dont have to wear suits to those schools. But my junior high school, Ill be dressed up every day. I liked the teachers who speak english at the junior high a ton. They were funny and told me they would throw me a party and that they would speak english at the party in my honor and that I could drink a lot that way and not have to concentrate on speaking Nihongo. This was told to me by the PE teacher, and then the 9th grade teacher next to him, a cheery round cheeked woman, said, You can drink a lot with us! haha. Apparently I may be playing soccer with the 7th grade teacher and his boys sometimes. He told me, I would enjoy soccer with you very much if you like, so I said sure, I would enjoy it too. Its strange because even though I dont understand so much of what was being said around me, I was able to understand so many things anyway. And I was able to get a sense of each persons personality. Some of the principles I met, I didnt really care for on first impression. Others I thought were wonderful. A couple acted sort of jaded and snide about the whole affair, while others were very interested in me and one even brought a map of the states out, picked out Ohio and wanted to know where in Ohio I was from. Youngstown was actually on the map, which was wierd, because only a few cities per state were on that map. So I think that principle has the impression that Youngstown is a big important city because it made it on the map. It is an important city, of course, to me, though I know not to the American public in general, so that made me happy seeing it listed there, over here in Japan.

Even though I only half understand or third understand the things being said, I find myself knowing things I didnt realize I knew. And only in a matter of four days. Ive been asking for water or beer or coke at restaurants and ordering my food on my own since the day after my first night. At first it was a focused effort, now not as much. Im learning the roads in Ami a bit, though now I have to learn Edosaki, which is very labyrinthine, well moreso than Ami, which is a maze as well (and even Hiromi, who has lived here all her life, gets lost).

I truely felt like the girl in Lost in Translation today. Probably because it was such a long extreme exposure of being talked to and about directly, without break. Every once in a while, a principle of board member would ask me a question that took forever to say, and then I would turn to Hiromi or Kazuko if I couldnt understand (which I probably couldnt if they took THAT long to ask me something) and Hiromi or Kazuko would say something simple like, He wants to know if you speak english. Or, he wants to know if you like curried rice, because thats all they serve on Friday. I told Hiromi and Kazuko I didnt believe them. Those people talked far too long to say one sentence. And my name was mentioned several times in those sentences. They assured me though that that was all that was said. Hmmm...at least the junior high, where Ill be the majority of the time, has that woman working there that says we will drink a lot together. haha. OH, and so cool, only at one of the elementary schools, the one I liked best because the principle was the one who pulled out to map to find where I come from, the ocha woman there stayed. She spoke english, and the principle obviously respected her. There was no backing out bowing and excusing herself. It was so cool to see that, after the others being so self-effacing. Cool stuff.

Im almost all done with most of the hard stuff of getting set up finally, so now I can relax a little. Just in time, because today almost broke me in half.

OH, and Kristen, I just let off three cockroach bombs in my apartment yesterday. I saw one and swept it out the front door and decided I wouldnt waste time letting the nasty creatures know they are messing with the wrong gaijin.

Oh yeah, garbage. DO you really understand how easy and how terrible our garbage system in America is? Easy to use, because you can throw out whatever whenever. Terrible, because its lazy. Here, I have to throw out only burnables on Tuesdays, Non burnable items on Wednesday, and THursday and Friday I have to seperate plastic and any other recyclables into three different bins. They dont mess around either. I had to buy two different kinds of garbage bags at the store. Both clear, so the garbage men can see if youve put something illegal in them. One for burnable items, another kind of bag with a different label for nonburnables. Oh and if I want to throw thermometers or batteries away, I have to go to the Ami town office to pick up a tiny red bag to put it in. Everything here is so particular. EVERYTHING. Nothing is done in sweeping gestures or generalization. I suppose it has something to do with Japan being a monoculture with little diversity in ethnicities living here, and also the small amount of livable land and the huge population living on top of each other. You cant just make sweeping gestures and you have to live carefully and politely because of that condition. IF you get into a car accident here, it is both drivers faults, regardless. Both are expected to assume responsibility because that is the way--everyone assumes responsibility for what happens here. Not like America one bit, where everyone is blaming someone else for something thats happened, it seems.

I miss my cat.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Hahaha, thanks Mom, for the many many updates. Sometimes theyre delayed. Please excuse my post for being apostrophe-less. I cant seem to find it on this keyboard. Cant wait to have my own internet access. Im at the office right now, after being inspected by a Chinese doctor who knew some English. He would say a few words like, lift shirt please, and laugh like a huckster at speaking English. Very cute. Now on to get my alien registration card, so this will be short. I just got my car the other day and can drive on the other side of the road now, though I keep turning on my wipers when I want to turn on my blinkers, since theyre on the opposite side of the wheel. I live in a beautiful apartment now, with a view of shrines and gardens out back, and its out of the main highway area and there is wooded trails I run in, with an occasional shrine hidden inside. It feels very mysterious right now. Lots of little old men and women out gardening in the mornings when I run, and I say Ohayo Gozaimasu as I run past and nod my head and at first they looked frightened, but now for the past two days they bow and smile and return the morning greeting. Went to Tokyo Disneyland yesterday. Yep, same Disneyland, just lots of Japanese people. I get lots of looks because Im a foreigner and have blue eyes. Kids have a harder time disguising their stares. I catch them looking and they break out into huge smiles and say Ohayo! or wave or say Hello! wanting to practice what little English they may have. Several have even clapped when I smiled at them. I felt like a Disney character too. Peter Pan was an American guy and as we walked past him entertaining all the little Japanese kids he noticed us there, a few Americans, and had a momentary look of desparation and broke out of character and said, hey guys! The food is good, though it looks like it should be in a museum occasionally. Im learning language faster already, though I feel like an amnesia victim. I stared at a blanket in a store the other day and even though I knew it was a blanket, I couldnt read all the writing on the package and was compelled to ask Hiromi, my caretaker, if it was indeed a blanket. I had to pick out the milk by looking at the picture of the cow on the carton. Its wonderful and amazing and totally frustrating. Oh my god, I heard Japanese hip hop the other day and Missy Eliot would be proud, I think. It was sweet. More later, gotta fly. Miss you all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

I'm off to Japan on Thursday afternoon. I haven't got much to say, other than I'm exhausted just from getting ready to go, so I will probably sleep lots and lots once I'm there, and when I get internet access again, I'll be posting pictures and entries as they collect. See you on the flip side.

Friday, August 13, 2004

After a turbulent beginning to this week, things are starting to settle again. I'm sad, but not so angry and disoriented now. I've begun focusing on getting back to getting ready to leave next Thursday (I can't believe so soon already). I decided to buy myself three dvds to watch during the thirteen hour flight on my laptop (in case I don't like the movies on the plane) and for some reason, completely without my knowing it, I bought three romances. All different genres. Amelie, Out of Africa, and Love Actually. I don't know what that says, but I am a sucker for romances, and I just hate to admit it, damn it, but it's true. Why on earth I chose these to have in Japan, I don't know. Apparently I'm preparing myself to have a good cry. I am so self-defeating sometimes. I should have bought action films and nothing emotionally engaging.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Last night I got a call at three in the morning from Regina, my ex-girlfriend and best friend. Her father had died several hours earlier, and she was at his house, the house where she and I lived during our undergrad years together. I drove out to see her and we sat in his room on his bed and reminisced about him together. Her father, to many people, would probably seem like a strange man. I know he did to me at first. He lived in a house that, in recent years, should have been condemned. He gave the shirt off his back to people, strangers, even though he had nothing. He'd let crazy kids like me stay with him when they needed a new home for a while. He was a Vietnam veteran with so many health problems, and our own country, and its promise to take care of its veterans, never came through for him. Only gave him the runaround any time he tried to get help from them. He was someone absolutely anyone would have passed in the street and not seen. He was an invisible person in society, but one of the best people I've ever had the chance to know. Most often, I've found, the best people in the world are the ones that no one sees for various reasons. He was 56 years old. He died of a massive heart attack. I feel like something inside me has just torn in two, something that was already broken and that I've been working for the past few years to mend. I feel like screaming in the faces of people because they aren't him, or aren't one of the lost children who knew him and loved him. I wouldn't write about this on such a public place like an online journal usually, but I want to show him to the world for some reason, probably because the world never looked at him before. Or other people like him. I don't even know what I'm writing anymore, or why, but this was him. We had many names for him, lots of affectionate nicknames, but now I can only think of him as Bobby D, which is what his friends from when he was a boy called him. Many people told him throughout his life that he would have to grow up someday, and he always said he wouldn't let the world do that to him, that it wouldn't beat him. A few days before he died, he told his daughter--with that in mind--that he'd won. And you know, I can't help but feel that he did. He won.

Friday, August 06, 2004

On Wednesday, my mom and I drove to Detroit's Renaissance Center in order to visit the Japanese Consulate where my visa could be gotten. Apparently this usually takes a while to happen, several days at least, but I managed to get mine rather easily, I think because the guy who was working the visa window felt bad that I'd driven four hours to process my papers instead of sending them through the mail. But I'm on a deadline here, and felt more confident in taking my stuff there in person rather than allowing the mail to deliver it, and then wait who knows how long for the visa to be processed. So the visa man was nice and it only took him the morning and part of the afternoon to make my visa. In the between hours, my mom and I wandered the Renaissance Center, which is sort of out of a science fiction novel from the fifties maybe, with a central tower and four other spoked around it. Circular glass bridges lit up green with lights on the inside. Lots of restaurants and odd little stores inside, alongside governmental places and corporate doings. I half expected to see klingons. They should really have a Worldcon at the Renaissance Center. There's even a hotel inside.

We also wandered around downtown Detroit a bit, which seemed dead really, and reminded me a bit of Youngstown's downtown, only bigger. They had a Borders, and we stopped in for a bit, where I bought Alice Hoffman's new book, Blackbird House. I'm a sucker for stories about houses, and this one is set in the same house for a century or so, looking at various inhabitants of it over the years, and the book is pretty, and Alice Hoffman is a good writer mostly, and I think she would probably be nice in person. She gives profits from books to charities occassionally, which is so cool. I hope I make enough money off books someday that I can just say, Oh what the heck, I'll just donate the profits of this book to such and such a charity.

After we got the visa from the nice man who broke protocol and made it for me within the day, we drove home again, and then I purchased a ticket to fly to Japan on August 19th. Just a couple of weeks around the corner. So now it's all very real. For the past few weeks, my emotions have been swinging back and forth like a pendulum. I'm excited to go, but I'm also sad to leave my family and friends behind for so long. But it feels right, going, so I try to focus on that feeling rather than all the what-ifs that cross my mind. It's a sort of crossroads in my life right now, and I feel like leaving everything I know is probably a good decision. It'll test who I am in more ways than I've ever figured out how to devise on my own, which are a lot of ways actually, but even so, placing myself in a culture that's completely alien to me (and not even really one of the cultures I've romanticized in my imagination) will test me in ways I wouldn't have been able to conceive of.

Plugging away on the new novel. I'm about sixty page in, and I still like it and it still feels like it keeps opening up into bigger areas and more places to explore and whatnot, so I know it's a real novel and not just a long story. That opening up feeling is the feeling I got when the first novel became a real novel, so that's what I'm using now to recognize and strategize various structures in the telling of that particular form. It's different from writing a short story, which feels closed off and hermetic to me, like a glass globe with a miniature world inside it. Short stories seem to exist in those enclosed spaces, whereas novels seem to keep opening, like a flower blooming, petal after petal.

Other than that, I'm reading the new Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, which has a great selection of stories this year.