Friday, October 29, 2004

This week nearly killed me. I don't know why, but it drained me to running on empty. Everyone else I talk to seems to think the week was normal for them, but it just took everything out of me. Maybe because I am revising my novel a bit, in the tail end of that, on top of teaching six classes a day and trying to speak Japanese as usual (which is tougher than it may seem, spending your days trying to communicate in another language can really sap you) and also I have started running pretty seriously again, and have started doing so every day after school with the junior high track team. The kids love having me run with them, and groups of non-runners gather on the sidelines to cheer, "gambatte Chris sensei!" as I run past with their friends. Some try to translate it to english and shout, "Fight-o! Fight-o!" and I just wave and say, "gambatte imasu!" which is just, "I'm trying my best!"

It was a good week in general, but yeah, dead tired. Dead on my feet. Brain not working at high speeds, really, any longer.

So to remedy that, after a night at Tsubohatchi, Kevin and Beth and I went to the Doremifa Club to sing karaoke. Since it was just the three of us, we decided to test drive a bunch of songs we wouldn't normally just decide to sing in front of the opposition (aka Japanese people). In the end, Kevin and I did a good run through of "No Scrubs" by TLC (not bad for white boys) we decided I shouldn't sing KD Lang's Miss Chatelaine, except in the shower, and Meredith Brookes' "Bitch" is on its way into my repetoire. Who knew? (that's a rhetorical question).

Also Mony Mony is just fun. And Ace of Base, The Sign. Wow, high school. Whew!
Glad that's over!

On the drive home, Beyonce Knowles came on the radio with "Crazy in Love" and as I parked in my apartment lot, I did a little seat dancing. God it's been so long since I've been dancing. I really miss it. We decided tonight we'd go into Roppongi sometime in the next month and stay the night dancing at the clubs there to spend a little energy shaking the booty. Much needed. Much much needed.

Other than this, life is good. I just need more sleep and less work.

Work is good, but I've impressed my school a little too well. I've been there two months in this year's contract and they've already contacted the place that brought me over to ask for a contract for the following year.

Other than this, not much else to report. Hope everyone else is doing well.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Wow, go watch this Eminem video that isn't getting play time apparently because he is really utilizing rap to the hilt here. I feel all proud of him for doing this song.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

I've been getting emails after the earthquakes here asking if I'm okay, so I decided to post an entry to say that I am fine. The quake happened on the other side of the country, but we felt it here strongly as well. And ever since we've been having aftershocks. I was on the phone with my mom and dad last night and we had two in an hour. The lamps that hang from my ceiling sway and the blue air freshner liquid sloshes back and forth in its glass decanter on my television stand. I went out on the balcony to see what happens from that perspective too (I know, such a silly writer perspective) and the apartment houses were swaying, looking like they were trying to uproot themselves to walk away.

But I'm okay, so no worries. :-)

Friday, October 22, 2004

Oops, forgot one other bit in that last post. While I was at Takada eating lunch with the fifth graders, one of the boys came over and asked me if I liked Kerry or Bush. I said Kerry and his eyes got big and he smiled really hard and ran around nodding and telling everyone else I liked Kerry, and then they all cheered and clapped.

I asked the teachers at Takada what they thought of Bush and how they viewed him. One of the better english speakers said, "Our Prime Minister, he push Bush, but I think Bush likes to make war."

Karina, our Japanese teacher, told us the Prime Minister here pushes for Bush because Japan's economy hasn't been so hot in years and it's gotten a little better since Bush got into power. So he's selling Bush to the Japanese in the interest of their economy mostly, and also wanting to keep a war-monger like Bush in power because maybe then we'll deal with North Korea for him. Sounds like he just wants the U.S. to be his big brother who will kick your ass if you mess with him. That sort of thing. Not pretty really.

Earlier this week I finally made it to the last elementary school on my list, Takada, so I've been to all of them now and can safely say my favorites are Hatosaki and Takada, which is unfortunate really because those are the two elementaries I visit the least in the next seven months. Two times each, can you believe it? The other, more frustrating schools get me much more. Probably because they have more students in them. Takada and Hatosaki are both small and when I visit them I feel like it's a little piece of heaven on earth. The teachers there dote on me and have better english skills than the other places (not great, but a bit more), the students are incredibly cute and sweet and so damned excited when I come (not that all the schools don't get excited when I'm there, but at these two it's excessive). when I went into the first graders room they squealed and several of them kept saying Ka-Koii! which is basically saying, "This is so cool!!!" Because they're so excited, I get more excited, and by the end of the day I feel like I've done my job. At the end of my day on Thursday the Takada kids gave me a bag of sweet potatoes that they picked that afternoon from their school garden for me. They were so excited to give them to me, and I had a Meryl Streep moment there for a while.

Fujita Sensei and I were trying to figure out if there are any good and easy Halloween songs the junior high kids could learn in English. We managed to think of The Monster Mash, but it's a bit too hard, and then we thought of Thriller, but it goes too fast for them probably. I looked online but only came up with various Christian websites that have sanitized Halloween for their young ones by taking Christmas carols and replacing the words with Halloweenish sorts of lyrics. Not really fun. I can't think of any, so I told Fujita sensei we really don't sing much at Halloween like at Christmas, so if any of you can think of Halloween songs, let me know.

my bad seventh grade boys who previously asked if I like pornography and wanted to talk about their penises ate lunch with me yesterday. Sho, my baseball boy, was also there. He and I had a good conversation in English to the all the other boys amazement and they thought he was a genius. I told him he should come to America some day for a homestay so his English could become more fluent and he got all nervous looking and said no no, I like Japan, as if going to the U.S. meant he'd never get to come home again. I told him I like America, but I came to Japan. It's okay to leave for a while and come back again. Then one of the bad boys looked at me and said, "How long?" and kept doing this little chin lift, not completing his sentence.

I said, "How long what?"

"How long?" he said again, chin lift.

Sho says, "He wants to know if you're a Red Sox or Yankees fan."

"Red Sox," I say. But I'm suspicious. The bell rings then, and I get up to go, and one of the other bad boys comes over, puts his arm around my back and whispers, "How long is penis? Okii? Okii, I think."

I rolled my eyes but he persisted. "Big, I think," he kept saying, and the others had gathered around by then and were nodding with him. So I corrected him again and said, "It's P-nis, not pen-is."

And he says, "Oh, oh, sorry boss! How long P-nis? Big, I think."

Oh, those boys. I can already tell I'll miss them one day.

Last night after Japanese class, Beth, Kevin, Pete, Karina and I went to Tsubahachi for some drinks and snacks. There was a group of young Japanese guys and girls there, who we made friends with. They'd been talking about us earlier and didn't think we could understand because they assumed we didn't speak Japanese, but then we jankened with them (It's just paper scissors, rock, but they do it all the time here in Japan) and they were excited that we knew the Japanese words to Janken and then we started talking a bit and one of them kept giving us sake and by the end of the night we'd invited them to our Halloween party next weekend. Good people. Lots of drunken fun. There was a group of military Japanese men sitting next to us too, and they wanted in on the fun, so one of them came over and introduced himself to us, and while he was talking to our table, I leaned around the divider wall and introduced myself to his three friends and had a conversation in Japanese with them. All really nice guys. When we left, the whole restaurant, it seemed, was waving goodbye to us and saying nice to meet you! It's times like that that really are just amazing. I mean, when's the last time you just made friends with about twenty strangers in a restaurant in America?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

We're having another typhoon, which means high winds and lots of rain being thrown around, but one short entry before I go to bed. Found out today that my story, "Realer Than You" will be in the next Ellen Datlow/Terri Windling YA anthology for Viking, The Coyote Road, out in 2006. Really excited. This was the first story I wrote after moving to Japan. It's set here in Ami, the town where I live, and also Tokyo. I hope Charles Vess does artwork for the stories like he did for The Faery Reel. That would be icing through and through.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Yes, two entries in one day. This time a brief one, just to add to the poetry love going around on the blogosphere. A poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Long time, no entry. Well, long time for me. Anyway, been real busy here for the past week. I have returned to doing some revisions on my novel, nothing major, just really sentence and paragraph level revisions at this point, slimming it all down a bit now that my eyes are fresher.

Ohama sensei is leaving in a day or two to visit schools in Portugal for the next few weeks. She'll be talking to Portuguese students about Japan, I guess. We had a going away party for her last night at the oldest restaurant in Edosaki, with very traditional Japanese food, aka lots of raw fish. I sort of picked at the stuff until the end of the night when the soba noodles were served. I was way down with that. Soba is oishii (delicious). Some beer and sake was poured. I was invited by one of my head teachers and some other teachers to come with them at the end of November to Kyoto (Japan's old capitol) to go to an Onsen (a natural hotspring). They said they've never invited a foreigner to come with them on one of those outings, it's a thing they just do together, but they want me to come. I said I'd like to, even though I think it means I'll be getting naked with them. I don't have a problem with that in general, but I'm not used to getting naked with like, you know, coworkers. I'll just pretend I'm back in junior high and high school P.E. and it'll all feel familiar again, I imagine.

As mentioned, the food at the restaurant last night was pretty traditional. I ate a few pieces of raw fish and have decided the white looking fish is easier to eat raw than red colored raw fish. It tastes less fishy. I can soak it in soy and wasabi and just taste the burn instead. Today, too, the school lunch held a wicked little surprise for me. A piece of chicken, bread with chocolate to spread on it (yes that's right, chocolate) and a bowl of noodles and spinach. Sounds pretty decent in general. So I start eating the noodles and am thinking, oh these noodles are so good, and the kids are downing them like crazy. Then I look into my bowl and really look at them, I mean really look, and notice the noodles have eyes. I almost hurled. I'd seen these things before and just forgot about them, I guess. They're tiny fish that look like thin noodles or sometimes a big one looks like a bean sprout. After last night's shrimp, which came out in its shell with its eyes and feelers and all the shrimpy stuff we usually take off before serving it to people back in the states, I was really just done with the whole food with eyes shtick. The students asked me why I didn't like it and I said they have eyes (mei) and it makes me feel nervous to eat food that can look at me. They thought that was pretty funny, though ultimately they just went back to lapping the fishies down. I am really open to a lot of different kinds of food, tons of different kinds, but I'm not a seafood boy in general, and seafood with eyes is just that much harder for me.

I will miss Ohama sensei. She makes me laugh so much. I enjoy being in her classes most. I imagine for the next month I won't wake up with as much enthusiasm, but who knows, maybe I'll start enjoying someone else's classes better. Looks like Kiuchi sensei and I will be taking over for Ohama sensei, too, and her kids are just the best students in general, so we should still have fun with them. Ohama came over to me last night at her party and asked me to please take care of her students for her. She was so motherly about it, sighing with relief when I told her, mochiron, of course.

This Sunday is Culture Day, which means the students are putting on skits and singing songs for their parents at the school. I have to attend because I'm in one of the skits. I play a student in a Japanese classroom and one of the students plays me, the foreign teacher. Very funny. I am giving him one of my shirts and ties to wear because everyone will immediately know he's supposed to me then, since I'm the only person here who wears colored dress shirts, and he's going to give me his student uniform to wear, which the students think makes me look handsome. I think it makes me look like I'm going into the marines.

That's about all for now. Looking forward to making some Thai curry at home tonight. No eyes for once.

Monday, October 11, 2004

My short story "The Trail of My Father's Blood" has been published at Strange Horizons this week.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The newest Mammoth Book of Best New Horror came out recently. My story from Trampoline, Dead Boy Found, is in it. Can't wait to get my contributor's copy and take a look for myself.

A cell phone pic:

I got my absentee ballot in the mail yesterday. Hurray! Gonna mail it off on Monday. So excited. A lot of the Japanese people I work with are interested in our election. They really don't understand what America's fascination with Bush is. A lot of them have hopes for Kerry to win. Japan Time's pointed out this particular part of the last debate as notable. Yet another example of Bush walking out on something the rest of the world is working together on. The main thing I see in the Bush administration is their inability to listen to other people. It's like talking to a wall. They only hear what they want to hear, and never answer questions that might undermine decisions they've made. They try to make Kerry out to be indecisive, but I think he's flexible, and that his willingness to change his mind is a strength. He's someone who can admit when he's been wrong, and can change his course of action. Bush, knowing that he's screwing up, just rushes on in the same course because he won't admit he's made a wrong decision. Anyway, I've been thinking about people who are going to vote the Green party. I understand and admire wanting more than the two choices, but I really don't think this situation is the one to exercise that desire for a polyphony of choices. Especially if you live in a swing state. Doing that in this particular election, giving Bush another four years to institutionalize despotic qualities by keep the public in fear of terrorism, will only set back a future in which multiple parties can viably run a candidate.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Beware of this woman, who is about to make her debut in America with her first album. She is the singer of the wretched "Easy Breezy, Japaneesy" song.

Last night I was chatting with some friends back home when I experienced my first earthquake. It was a 5.7 on a 7 point scaled here in Japan. It was centered pretty much exactly where I live according to this article. One moment, I was typing a message, the next the whole apartment building was shaking and swaying. I kept thinking,this is an earthquake isn't it? I don't know why, but I have a weird calmness come over me whenever things that normally a person might think of as life-threatening happens. I don't understand that reaction really, it's almost and excitement, but anyway, I got up to go to the other room and got slammed into a wall. I kept thinking the building would have to fold at any moment because it was being thrown about so much, but the Japanese build things to deal with earthquakes. Their buildings are light, not heavily-framed, and flexible. So they move with the energy being distributed into them. Even after the earthquake was over, the apartment house kept swaying, rocking, until it came to a stop again. I went outside but no one was really out or making a fuss about it. This morning, though, while people were leaving for work, I could hear them all out in the parking lot and on the balconies chattering on about it. So they saved up their fuss for the morning.

another pic of me

Most likely, as one of the commentors in the previous post implies, the boys were wanting to get away with saying the word pornography and acting innocent about it if I didn't take to it well. Today a group of boys came into my office during their after lunch break and wanted to speak English with me. Eventually one of them said penis. Only you could tell he'd gotten it out of a dictionary because he pronounce it as if it were a pen, the sort you write with. I just corrected him. What the hell, I've taught them nose and eyes and mouth and ears etc. I'm not going to be a prude about another part of their body. If I did, it'd just feed into their silliness. They're curious, just like any adolescents. I'm not going to make their curiousity into something taboo because I think that's where most of adult society goes wrong, and makes it that much harder for kids to take themselves and their bodies as just another natural thing in the world.

I worked from 8:30 this morning till 6 at night. Normally I would hate hate hate my life working that many hours in a day, but I didn't mind it really. I like teaching at the junior high, even though it's draining on a lot of levels. I usually go home by five, but every now and then I don't mind staying a little longer like the rest of the employees. They can't believe I stay that long to help. It's not expected of foreigners, but I think putting in the extra efforts has made them more receptive to me in ways that they might not have been otherwise.

Another language story: Since I got here a month and a half ago, I have not eaten a hamburger. Why? Because I'm a freak and like my hamburgers pretty plain, just cheese and maybe some ketchup. I know how to order food, but I didn't know how to order food without certain items coming with it. So I avoided ordering things I couldn't eat as they come. So last Saturday, before the hanabi festival, I tried ordering McDonald's. I'm not a big fan, but I had a craving for a hamburger. As I ordered, I tried my best to say no tomatoes, etc., and it seemed like the server understood, but then she got her manager who proceeded to ask me a ton of questions so quickly I couldn't understand. And of course I just kept nodding like whatever she said was fine. You know how foreigners who can't speak the language are. So I get my bag of food and I head off to study Japanese with Hiromi. When I opened up the burger wrapper, though, I found inside the buns to a sandwich spread with ketchup. Nothing else. Nothing. Hiromi was right then asking what I wanted to study that afternoon, so I held up my buns and said, "How to order food *without* things correctly." Hiromi's eyes got big and we both burst out laughing, but I was really irritated. I hate not being able to communicate sometimes. Like that time I went to the drug store when I first got here, wanting peroxide, and could only manage to get hydrocortizone after an hour of trying to communicate with the druggist.

So tonight, as I was driving home from work, I got the idea to go test and see how much progress I've made. I went to the drugstore because this morning I woke up with a slight cold, mostly a sore throat. I found my pharmacist and told her I had a sore throat in perfect Japanese. She asked if my head hurt too, and I was able to say no. She asked if my nose was stuffy. I understood and said a little. Did I have a cough? A slight one, I told her. She took me behind the counter and pulled out some medicine and told me to take these tablets three times a day, morning, afternoon and night. I told her I understood. She said to go to a doctor if it's not better in five days, and I understood that also. There was no frantic drawing of pictures or hand waving and gesturing involved. I got my meds and then proceeded to go to my archnemesis, the manager of the next door McDonald's. There I ordered my cheeseburger without any problems. Not only did I say I wanted the burger without sauce and veggies, but I then proceeded to rephrase the whole statement and say hamburger and cheese only! Ha! She was unable to give me a bun with just ketchup on it, and I swear she was a little displeased. I, on the other hand, walked out with a spring in my step.

The other night my friend the terriyaki woman told me she was happy I was learning Japanese. Chris san, she said, you've only been here for a little over a month and you can understand me a little better. This makes me happy because I can tell you you're a nice foreigner. Also I don't have to count out your money for you anymore."

Previously the terriyaki woman had had to sort through my change and help me come to the right amount, before I learned which coin was worth what money. She only had to do that twice (when I first got here), but I visit her once a week, and so it's fresh in her memory. She has this little stand behind a plaza, and you'd never know it was there unless you parked around back, but she has the best terriyaki for miles and miles. She's so little and old and sweet. I'm happy I'm able to chat her up a little now too. I was able to tell her that her terriyaki is the best, and she smiled and put her hands to her heart and made all the cute noises in the register of cute noises possible.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I hadn't mentioned it to any of the teachers at the junior high school because I didn't want to get the kids into any unnecessary trouble, but today was the last I could handle of hearing the question posed to me in hallways as I passed by groups of boys in a huddle: "Chris sensei! Chris sensei! Do you like pornography?"

"Nani?" I always say, acting as if I've never heard that word before in my life. "What did you say?" Then I spend ten minutes each time trying to figure out how to ask the kids where they've learned that word.

Today I was eating lunch when two boys across from me looked up from their bowls of wonton soup and said, "Pornography? You like?" I couldn't take it anymore. I finally went to Ms. Kiuchi during the next period when we teach with Ms. Ohama together and said, "Ms. Kiuchi, do you know the kids know the word pornography and won't stop asking me if I like it? It's been happening for the past two weeks now."

One of the 3rd grade boys (9th grade in America) overheard me telling her this, and started to snicker. (Yuta is his name, and he's really good at english, likes to throw words like "caprice" into english poems he writes and always tells me he's a genius). Ms. Kiuchi wasn't phased by his snicker but she did grin and said, "It's okay. In our country it's okay..." she trailed off, searching for the words to say, and in that space of time I filled in a variety of possibilities. In this country they let little kids buy porn mags, in this country it's okay for kids to *pose* for pornography, in this country....what, Ms. Kiuchi? What??

"In this country, Pornography is a musical band the kids listen to, especially boys."

And then Yuta cracks up laughing. And then I laughed too. And then all the kids in the classroom laughed because I laughed, not that they knew what I was laughing about.

At least now I don't feel like I'm being accosted by small asian boys in the backstreets of Tokyo, tugging on my sleeve and saying, "Hey, you like girls? You like pornography? I get for you." These are "good" rural-ish kids in Edosaki. My heart would have been broken if they were hussling!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Beth and Kevin's pics from the very cool hanabi festival.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Just watched the presidential debate, and I have to say I have a huge crush on John Kerry. I actually wasn't happy when he was chosen as the Democratic candidate, but I like many people thought, "Well he's the lesser of two evils, I'll get behind him." Now, though, after getting to hear him speak in the debates, I am simply amazed at how articulate he is, and how intelligent. I love his ability to point out things like how being certain doesn't mean being right. He has a really keen specific intelligence, able to cut through the big picture and point out how all the trees roots are growing together under the soil. He's such a more interconnected and integral mind than Bush and his administration. That makes me feel more at ease with him as the Democratic candidate than I was before. I feel like I can really get behind him now.

Let's hope my vote will actually get counted. I find it strange that I have to hope for that. Isn't it one of our "rights"? Shouldn't the precautions be taken to make sure that this "right" isn't taken away from me?

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The beginning of a letter to my friend Mary:

I just got back from watching hanabi, fireworks, which in Japanese translates literally into flower fire. I like the idea of flower fire better the fire works, don't you? I think it's more accurate, the way they burst and blossom like flowers. That makes more sense. The Japanese is sometimes more correct in their naming, though sometimes I think English has got something over on certain expressions also. There was a man from West Africa there tonight. I'd met him once before at a party for foreigners living in the area. He speaks French, of course, as that's a part of Africa the French colonized. On the hour walk back to our cars, he and I walked together and I spoke to him in French as best as possible. I spent two years in high school studying it, and two years in college. He was really happy to speak even the simple French I had to offer him. It made me want to study French again, only in a French speaking culture. He told me I knew all the grammar and that if I spent a year in a place that speaks French, he knows I'd be fluent, because I have good pronounciation already. This is funny because many Japanese people say I have excellent pronounciation of Japanese as well. Maybe I just have an ear for sounds. I think I do, because sounds are important to me in my fiction, and also when I'm reading other people's stories. Maybe it isn't apparent in my own stories. It's hard for me to tell how they read to other people. It's easier to tell someone else how their stories read. For me, reading your sentences is like riding a rollercoaster. Thrilling and slippery and fast and sometimes slow, but they quickly curve round into a hard bend, and then you're suddenly onto some new and exciting descent or uplift. I'm not sure how my own writing sounds though. Sometimes I think it's probably staccato.

I was sitting in the middle of a rice field tonight, drinking beer and eating a bunch of really good Japanese food, and I was watching the flower fire above, and thinking, I feel very much adrift and not at home, yet calm about it. I had these same feelings in America, but I wasn't calm about it at all. I think when you feel different and alienated to some extent in your own culture, it's harder. But once you place yourself into a culture where you're expected to be different and alien, you don't worry about your differences. I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is enjoying feeling calm about my differences, whether they're real or imagined, and another part of me is resentful that I couldn't find a way to have that sort of peace back in the states. I keep trying to think of ways that I could transplant the attitude I have here when I return. To figure out how to take being okay with being foreign back home with me. I don't think I've come up with any surefire way, but I'm working on it.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Can anyone point me to an online site that has a video of the presidential debate? I really want to see it. Thanks.