Monday, February 28, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

Wow, Million Dollar Baby was great. I wasn't sure if I'd like it because I had some problems with Mystic River and some of Eastwood's choices in that film, but I was pretty much rapt during Million Dollar Baby. And Hilary Swank, woof, great performance. Sometimes I don't like to look at her for some reason, but I really wanted to just watch her act during this one. I couldn't take my eyes off her. When I finished watching, I checked online to see what was up with the Oscars and was actually really happy to see this movie got Best Movie and Swank Best Actress. Actually, after watching Million Dollar Baby, I even like Mystic River more. Eastwood's developing something, it looks like. I'll be interested to see where he goes with his next film. Hopefully he'll keep mining this bittersweet territory, examining what true loyalty and family really is.

Friday, February 25, 2005

So Fey

I sold a story called, "Isis in Darkness", the other day to Steve Berman, who is editing "So Fey: Queer Faery Fictions" for Haworth Positronic Press. I'll post a release date when I know one. Looks like it'll be a good anthology.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Ghibli Museum

I had a day off from work today, so I spent it at the Ghibli Museum. I did not mention this as I did not want festering poison-filled posts of jealousy knocking on my journal in the days previous to my travels. So, anyway, I took the train to Tokyo and from Shinjuku went to Mitaka. It was a relatively easy, cheap trip. Good to know for future Japan Worldcon 2007-goers. I didn't know which line took me too me Mitaka, so I asked a man, who was scared of me for a moment and just said, "No, no, no Mitaka," and so I thanked him and walked back down to the waiting area, saying, "Doushiyo kanaa?" (What'll I do now?) until a felt a tap tap tap on my back and it was the man I'd asked. He came back after me and when I turned around and he said, "Mitaka?" I sort of jumped in surprise and said, "Sumimasen, bikkuri shita!" (Excuse me, I got surprised!) to which he laughed and took me to the right line. I then didn't know where to buy the ticket to Mitaka, but I asked a woman vendor who graciously told me that I didn't buy one here. I road the train there and paid at the end of the line. Yes, I'm making you all wait to hear about Ghibli and how wonderfully I'm understanding Japanese first because this is my blog and if you don't like it, go get your Ghibli elsewhere!

Anyway, I will cut to the chase and say I got on the wrong bus in Mitaka and finally made it to the museum anyway. It's in a park in Mitaka, surrounded by trees and tennis courts and a river flows nearby it. It's quite beautiful there, and quiet. What follows is a pictorial tour of the things I saw at the Ghibli Museum.

Here we are at the front entrance.

Nearby Totoro waits in the ticket booth.

Beneath Totoro are the little black specks whose name I forget from Spirited Away.

Atop the museum is a tower you can climb in. Also a robot is perched up there. I'm not sure which film he's from.

You are not allowed, actually, to take pictures at the Ghibli. So the remaining ones are few, but I managed to snag them anyway. Here are a few stained glass shots of characters from Princess Mononoke.

And here is one of those aliens from one of those Pixar films, I can't remember which one, peeking out from a cracked doorway. I went through hell and highwater to avoid getting caught taking that one, so you better appreciate it!

Down below the cafe is an ornamental well where kids can play with the pump and parents can take pictures of their cute kids playing with the pump.

That is actually all the pics I could get out of Ghibli with. The place is stalked by the nice but no you can't take pictures here police. They speak English too, so you know, I can't play dumb here. Sorry.

To encapsulate what you can't see via Chris Cam: lots and lots of original drawings by Miyazaki and his crew, film stills and plates and books that he's inspired and been inspired by, a ton of way expensive cool things in the gift shop, and little doors to bend over to go to different areas occasionally. There is also the Cat Bus room. I so love the Cat Bus. The only problem with the Cat Bus is that only little tiny children can go on the Cat Bus, which is one humungous teddy bear that you can crawl in and on top of, and it's filled with the black specks to play with. I wanted to go on the Cat Bus too, damn it. We love the Cat Bus.

The Ghibli Museum was quiet and calm even though it was crowded. A sort of manifesto of what this museum would be run like, written by Miyazaki, says that it will be a quiet and calm place we where can all get lost (you guessed it) *together*. He explicitly states that it will not be full of hoopla and flamboyancy. This is very sweet and all, but I am American and also all about the flamboyancy, so I sort of was overcome by all the calmness. I sort of wanted my own little Miyazaki world to play in. I wanted Miyazakiland, but I got a real honest to goodness museum, like it's called. I wanted to ride the Cat Bus damn it.

Still, the museum is beautiful and well worth the trip, if for nothing else you can spend tons of money in the very over-priced cool gift shop.

On my way back to the train station, I walked instead of taking another dubious bus ride to Mitaka hell. It was a strange day. Something was in the air, I couldn't name it. But I felt melancholy and as I walked beside the river I snapped a few pictures of flower blossoms coming out early due to the recent warm sunny days, and also a statue in a statue park that was closed, so I snapped her through the wrought iron gates. There's a certain sort of beauty in Japan that always contains some sort of sadness. I'm not sure how to explain it. But that's how it works. Walking beside the river today, seeing the first blossoms opening, watching a koi as big as my arm slide down the river, I couldn't help but feel strangely both at home and out of place at the same time.

Some blossoms.
More blossoms.
Yet more blossoms.
A tree down by the river.
A stone woman.
A view across the river.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hai, wakarimashita!

Okay, I am journaling quite a bit tonight, but anyway, I had to jot down this little incident that happened earlier. I got a call from my internet provider here in Japan and somehow managed to do the entire conversation with the woman on my own. She asked if this was Baruzaku Kurisutafa and I said that it was, but that I only do a little Japanese and that I don't speak it often. She then asked if I could put a Japanese speaker on the phone to translate for me and I said not at the moment and she asked how about tomorrow and I said sure! I asked for her telephone number and she gave it to me (I always wondered how this would be, dictating my first Japanese phone number given over the phone: zero ichi ni zero kyu yon ichi hachi ni hachi!) and then asked what hours I could call, which got me, lo and behold, the hours between kyu and go! I told her I was sorry and she said, not at all! It was very cute because once I told her I was just learning Japanese she spoke it very slowly for me, like I speak English slowly for my kids at school. So--re--de--wa--na--ni--na--ni--na--ni. And I did my, Hai, wakarimashita! (Yes, I've understood, certainly!) whenever appropriate.

Now the unfortunate thing is that I actually won't be around to call her tomorrow between those hours. But I got through the phone call! And hey, this is great improvement because six months ago I would have said, "Gomen nasai! Nihongo wakarimasen," (Forgive me! I don't understand Japanese) and hung up.

I love being a foreigner sometimes.

The Good News

Some real "Good News".

Link swiped from Barth.

Okay, Edited: Eight Things I've Done (Many of them Stupid) That You Probably Haven't

Eight Things I've Done That You Probably Haven't (I got bored after eight, and I like to be different, so sue me.)

1.) Called Algis Budrys at home when I was seventeen years old to ask him about a submission I'd made to Tomorrow Magazine. I expected Tomorrow Magazine headquarters was in a tall skyscraper in Chicago, next to The Daily Planet building, but what I got was Algis Budrys in his apartment. He was very nice to me and chatted about my story with me and gave me all sorts of tips for submitting stories. The scales were lifted from my eyes concerning the production of science fiction and fantasy magazines. I'm so glad I learned all this with Algis and not someone who would have freaked out on me. But he put his damned phone number in the magazine, so what did he expect?

2.) Spent a weekend in jail. I was shown my bunk and my first encounter was with the man sleeping in the bunk above me doling out coffee grounds to three other guys, saying, "For my bitch number one, for my bitch number two, for my bitch number three." He then turned to me and said, "So do you want to be my bitch too?" and held out a spoonful of coffee grounds. I said, "Dude, a cup of coffee ain't worth it," and he was nice to me for the rest of the weekend.

3.) Started learning a new language at 29 years old and several weeks into it called one of my coworkers a pervert instead of a genius (hentai/tensai). Shut up.

4.) Sat next to a very old, very loud woman on the bus back to Oceanside from World Fantasy Convention in Monterey, California, 1998, who wouldn't stop talking to me about her husband who was in jail, a 23 year old illegal Mexican immigrant who she married after he started working as a janitor at her assisted living complex. When a seat opened up and I moved to it, she said, "What's the matter with you? You don't want to talk to me, huh? Hmmph."

5.) Met Michael Moore in NYC city after Rick Bowes and I came out of the theatre where we'd watched "Farenheit 9/11.

6.) Sat on Kelly Link's lap in a taxi all the way home while I was drunk and she told me a story about a man in Australia having his scrotum sliced open in the ocean by his own surfboard, but he didn't lose his um, ball, because his tight scuba suit held it inside.

7.) Got drunk at a backstage party at a Magnetic Fields concert and was flirted with by the cute member of the Magnetic Fields, what's-his-name, Dudley. Shut up, I don't want to hear anyone saying there is no cute member of the Magnetic Fields. And you shut up too, I don't want to hear if he flirted with you or your friend or some other person you know either.

8.) Went into a Christian missionary tent at the Trumbull County fair when I was 12 with my friend Brent and let a guy talk to us about Jesus. He showed us a box and said, "Do you know what your funeral will look like?" and we said no and he pressed a button and the box lit up and he said, "Look inside here, here it is!" and there was a casket with a lot of flowers on it, and I was disappointed. He then wanted us to take Jesus into our hearts and said all we had to do was repeat after him, and Brent looked at me and we were both doing that Oh my God smile, I can't believe this, and as the guy tried to lead us through the God sales pitch we kept breaking out laughing while repeating the taking Jesus into our hearts chant until we both broke out laughing so hard and the guy made a disgusted face that we jumped up and ran out of the tent and out into the midway and ran all the way back to the 4-H barns (where our cows were) shouting, "I take Jesus into my heart! Bwahahaha!"
**Inspired by #2 on Susan's list.

Oh, and I just realized there are people out there who could add to the descriptions of the events listed above, or who might think I should have included some other equally embarrassing moment in this list. For those of you who are thinking about adding to these moments, this is not the time or place to get your yucks in. I have said all I wanted to say publicly, and that is enough.

That is all.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Language Skillz

I write about learning a new language a lot because the process is so fascinating to me. I'm not quite sure how to explain it to people who have never learned another language, but trust me, it is soooo cool. And when I say "people who have never learned another language" I mean people who have never learned another language outside of a classroom setting. For example, I learned French in high school and college. I studied it for four years altogether. Give me a French text and I can read it really well. Put a French speaker in front of me and I will struggle to understand them and respond. My French was learned in the classroom and my skills with French largely remain in studious activities like reading. Now I'm sure because I have the four years background that if I went to France, it would only take a few months for me to get to the place it's taken me six months to get to with Japanese, but I'm not sure if I would have the same emotional experience I'm having with learning Japanese. When I was sixteen years old, I was selected for an experimental program in my high school to learn Japanese. We learned via satellite with a professor of Japanese based in Texas. We had a phone we could pick up while he was on the television and talk to him directly during lessons. It was way cool, especially back in the early nineties. But in any case, that was 9 months of language training in Japanese with, again, not much real world use of the language. So when I arrived in Japan, I knew how to count, I knew the names of colors and animals, I knew how to introduce myself and say polite things about the weather or inquire about how someone was doing. I knew how to ask if someone had something I wanted. I knew how to say what I liked and didn't like. That was it, really. And I knew the first two alphabets, of course. So, actually, a decent prep, but nothing special, because knowing those things didn't mean I could actually understand a Japanese person when they used those words. That came with living here and hearing it every single day being talked around me.

I am still constantly amazed when I'm put into a situation I haven't planned for where I have to speak or understand Japanese and I managed to do it. The other day I was grocery shopping and ran into one of the elementary school teachers I work with. The elementary school teachers have no English, and so when he came up to me and said hello and asked how I was, I had my instant of panic that I sometimes get when I have to really use the language quickly and without preparation. In a classroom, there is a very contained sort of context for language, so it's actually easier for me to speak Japanese while I'm teaching, whereas put me outside the classroom context and suddenly there are all sorts of things people talk about. And I'm always afraid I will take too long to think through what I want to say in my head that it will just frustrate the other person or that I'll look stupid. So anyway, I said hello back to the teacher and told him I was fine and asked him how he was, and he asked me if I usually shopped at this grocery store, and I told him I lived nearby so yes, and he said he lived in Ami, too, and that he always came here, though the prices were a little expensive, he thought. I agreed and then he asked me if I cook for myself, since he saw lots of groceries in my basket. I told him that I usually cooked for myself and ate out only once or twice a week and he thought that was amazing and told me how my Japanese was getting really good. I thanked him and then we said goodbye and I did my little sigh of relief thing, and then once the tightness in my chest unwound from the pressure being off, I was like, holy crap, I understood him really easily. The length of time to process what others say is shortening as well as the length of time that I need to process what I want to say in my head before I said. Now I am still a little slow and people can tell it's a second language and that I'm still studying it, but I eventually get said what I want to say, and don't have too much confusion over it. And I don't know how to explain the rush I get from that. I once complained in my journal about not being able to walk past people in public places and understand what they were saying, and now I walk past people in mid-conversation and understand a lot of what they're saying. It's pretty mundane stuff, just like most conversations in publice. But I'm still fascinated with hearing even the mundane. When I hear a little kid ask his or her father to get them a toy or a piece of candy, when I hear a husband tell his wife that he's beat, when I hear an old woman say her back hurts, or hear an older man tell his wife that the prices at a store are too expensive, to hear arguments or jokes being told, or hear someone trying to compliment somone else, all this mundane talk for me has a glow to it as I'm understanding it. Sometimes I feel so weirdly happy about it that I feel like I'm on some sort of happy drug. It gives me a natural high.

I finally watched Daremo Shiranai (Nobody Knows) the Japanese film I wrote about a week or so ago. Wow. Woof. It was a killer. Amazing. I can't tell you how much you need to see this film if you can. I watched it in Japanese of course, and the good news is that I understood about 90 percent of what the actors were saying. The bad news is that I understood about 90 percent of what the actors were saying, and it didn't take me long to feel the pressure behind my eyes building and then I was crying buckets throughout the whole thing. (Amber, this is soo one of your kind of crying movies to watch!) I was right, too, about how wonderfully the director captures the Japan I know, the details, the sounds of the locusts screaming in summer, the voices of children at play in the park, the school uniforms, the way kids interact with each other, the sheen of sweat on people's skins during summer. The lights of Tokyo and the hushed trains. I'm not sure if the movie was popular here because it was such a depressing sort of movie, and you know, those movies aren't popular in the States either. I think the majority of people don't like to watch movies that aren't Hollywood entertainment type films, which is sad, because if they would give films that aren't about car chases and cutesy comical romantic encounters a chance as well, I think that people would find these less upbeat, more socially relevant movies has something different to offer them that could enrich their lives more than the entertainment only category films (which I love too, but I don't really have to argue here for why people should watch films meant simply and only to entertain, because they already watch those regularly). If you've ever seen a movie called The Bicycle Thief, I would compare Daremo Shiranai to it, the heightened sense of realism, but I would say Daremo Shiranai is ten times better than The Bicycle Thief.

Also, I found out that the April issue of Realms of Fantasy just went on shelves back in the States yesterday.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Saturday Morning Interviews and Anniversaries

Saturday morning here in the Barzak apato, and I'm listening to the familiar sound of Karen Joy Fowler's lovely laugh. This interview was published back in September, but I'm not sure if anyone knew about it or found it online at the time. I am a huge huge fan of Michael Silverblatt's interviews for the Bookworm program on KCRW in Santa Monica, and listened to them almost every week when I was back in the States. After I moved, I forgot to go back to the website for a while, and recently I remembered my old ritual and brought it back into my weekend activities again, so I've been going through the interviews done since September, since I moved here. Karen's was one of the ones to go online only a couple weeks after I left. Six months later, it's a really nice thing to have as a surprise, to hear a familiar voice from back home online. And the interview is fabulous, dahlings, so run, as Ms. Bond always says, do not walk.

And yes, tomorrow is my six month anniversary with Japan. So far we haven't killed each other, so the future looks bright.

The Language of Moths

I just went to the Realms of Fantasy site and saw that my novelette, The Language of Moths, is in the April 2005 issue (I'm wondering if it comes out in March, though, as Realms of Fantasy is bimonthly). I'm excited because this story is close to my heart. And from what I can see of the art on the website, it looks like I got away with being in another issue without all the chicks in chainmail on the cover, and a pretty nice accompanying image for my story as well. So anyway, take a look at it when it hits the bookstore magazine shelves. And let me know when it does, since I'm so far away from those shelves over here in Japan.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

After the Quake

Yes, another earthquake, this one in the middle of the night. I think I've gained super powers somehow. The sort that cats are reported to have, how they sense earthquakes before they reach human sense organs. Almost a minute before the earthquake hit, I sat up straight in my futon out of a deep sleep and mumbled, "What's wrong?" I looked around and thought I'd just had a nightmare. Then, as I lay down again, I felt it move through my apartment like a wave and the building moved side to side as it usually does during these, only for a really really long time. It felt more powerful than any of the other ones I've experienced since moving here. In the morning, when I woke up to get ready for work, I found pictures toppled over in their frames, a cereal bowl on the kitchen floor, and some yen scattered beside the bookshelf. None of the other earthquakes threw stuff around so blithely. I also just finished Murakami's "After the Quake" tonight. Eerie, eerie. A good collection, by the way.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Weekend in Review

Hope everyone had a good Valentine's weekend. Mine was swell. I went into Tokyo to meet Mr. Kobayashi and some of his colleagues in translation who had read some of my work and they held a nice dinner for me at a beautiful izakaya pub in Jimbocho. Jimbocho is a really cool part of Tokyo that has a whole street devoted to bookstores. If only I could read Japanese better, it would be heaven. Even not reading Japanese well, I still liked being on a street full of bookshops. I do read Japanese, but only the first two alphabets. I can only recognize about twenty kanji (from the third alphabet). And there are hundreds of kanji. I am just now starting to study them, and they sort of make sense once you begin to figure them out, but it's a very different system of organizing meaning for me than Romance languages use.

We left Tokyo around ten in the evening to take the train back to Ami. Once we got back to the train station in Ushiku, though, we still had lots of energy and decided to go to a karaoke bar. Tadashi suggested it, and I said sure. At first I thought it wouldn't be that fun, just two people karaokeing, but once we were there, I had the best time ever, actually. Tadashi is the funnest person to hang around with. I love that cat.

We spent most of the weekend hanging out, relaxing. There's not much to do in Ami, so we watched movies on my laptop and went shopping and out to dinner and to a game center, where I won a watch with one of those grabby arm things. We ate lots of chocolate too. Tadashi brought the best chocolate cake with him from Nagoya, and we ate it for breakfast on Sunday before I took him to the train station and sent him on his way home.

Going back to school today was sort of depressing. Whenever I have a long weekend, I don't ever want to go back to work. I probably will feel out of it at work for a few days before I get back into my routine and just accept the monotony of a work schedule. I really want a job where I can just work at my own pace and not have to be stuck in the actual work place for eight or more hours a day. I do better work when I make my own schedule anyway.

I am working on the fourth story/chapter of a new book I'm writing. It's set in Japan. At first I thought they were individual stories, but recently I've come to see that they are all part of a whole, and so now I'm working on a much bigger project than I at first realized. I'm excited about it, and can't wait to see where it takes me.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Good News Escapes From The Sad World Of Publishing

Interesting article here about the recent success of Sam Lipsyte's new novel, Home Land, which apparently was turned down by thirty publishers in the past two years before his agent decided to sell it in England first, where it was received wonderfully, and then finally after someone else took the risk on it, an American publisher picked it up. This is thouroughly lovely news for Mr. Lipsyte, though I agree with him when he says that he feels for the next guy who doesn't get the break he got cut in this book's last hour, so to speak. The publishing world is one crazy scary mofo place, man. I've stolen the link from Maud Newton, who always has her finger on the pulse, it seems.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Janken Pon

We are having the first earthquake of the new year at this very moment. Yes, my dear readers, I am typing while something just fell on the floor in my kitchen. Will check on that later. I have become so numb to earthquakes now. I feel Californian, or well in this case, Japanesey (terrible Utada Hikaru song reference). Oh there now, everything is fine again. Just type through the shaking and it will go away.

I have a day off today. I slept in until 10 a.m. I am not sure what I'm going to do with myself all day, but I will figure something out.

This weekend I am going to try to convince Tadashi to see Daremo Shiranai with me (Nobody Knows). It's still playing at a theater in Shibuya. It just opened in NYC too, I hear. The little boy in the movie won best actor at Cannes this year. The story sounds incredible. I watched two different previews online and got all teary both times. It's based on a true story of a woman who abandoned her four children in an apartment in Tokyo. They continued to take care of themselves on their own for six months before anyone realized they were without parents.

I watch these trailers and tear up, because I just see my kids at the junior high and elementary schools when I watch it. I have become a Japanese sort of teacher after all, and feel responsible for the kids now, as if they were my own. This is my Japan depicted very naturalistically. There is even a wonderful scene with the kids playing Janken (Paper, scissors, rock) on a stairwell. In Japan, Janken happens all day, everywhere. I see it at least twenty times a day. The kids use it to settle disputes, settle who gets the extra milk cartons at lunch, who takes the lunch trays up to the cart, who raised their hand first to answer a question during a game. I've seen adults use it too. It's cute and sweet and so much better than seeing kids (not to mention adults) whining and crying over who gets what or who goes first, etc. The losers never get upset after they janken. They stick to the honor of having done the deciding game and lost fair and squarely.

There is a chant they say as they Janken. Saisho guu, Janken pon! (First is stone, now Janken!) If you have the same symbol (paper, scissors or stone) then you keep going, and the chant changes to "Aiko deshou! Aiko deshou!" (one more time! one more time!) until there is a winner.

Anyway, when I saw the abandoned children in the movie trailer janken-ing, I almost began to weep my little heart out. Why would I go see a movie that is so obviously sad, some may ask? Because I think we avoid certain emotions in our lives too much. I think healthy doses of sadness are good for us. I think it's good to stay connected to the world, which is not always happy, and to try to pretend it is nothing but happy would be to live in denial of what is real.

So go forth and watch something sad!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Chemical Brothers

My friend Nobuo burned the Chemical Brothers new cd for me the other day and all I have to say is you have to check this cd out. Especially if you like electronica mixed with old school hip hop as well as a few other genres. It makes me wanna get my dance on.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I Am The Foreign Teacher

I am the foreign teacher, the one you may have had back in the states, the one who speaks with an accent and sometimes articulates things in phrases that sound funny. I am the foreign teacher who is all at once interesting because of being foreign and intensely funny due to having been displaced. I didn't ever think I would have been this person, but here I am, and actually I've gotten to like it once I got over my ridiculous need to feel in control and cool and articulate. The first few months I ran up against a lot of my own inner walls, walls I didn't even know I had, or if I did know, I didn't realize just how strong they were and how much they affected my attitude towards the world. Once I got okay with being a bit of a dork, a bit of a dummy, suddenly a lot of things that used to hold me back just went away.

This is how you learn a language, after you've gotten the basics of it down, that is.

Today I taught at Numasato elementary school, the one I like because they feed me treats all day and there is a constant flow of good coffee. Actually, coffee will play a role in this anecdote in the end, but for now we'll go on to the classrooms.

I mentioned recently, I think last month, how I could feel another sort of language acquisition progression coming on, and it did happen, though more subtly than the previous ones, which were in some cases sort of torturous. I think they won't be as bad from now on because I do the basic things now without being frustrated and always uncertain of what I'm saying. So what's happened recently, mostly thanks to a lot of tutoring from Tadashi, is that I'm able to go to school and communicate even more with my students. At the elementary schools, I'm able to run the classroom without the help of the teacher. I can talk to the kids in Japanese and give them instruction and they understand. Sometimes they laugh at something I say that I'm sure sounds funny, but that's okay. I'm okay with being the foreign teacher now, right? So I laugh with them and maybe say the word I say funny a few times more to keep them going. The thing is, they know what I'm saying, even if I say it in a way they wouldn't say it, and that's the important part. It's also good because I use myself as an example of it being okay to make mistakes while trying to speak a language that isn't native to your tongue. Last week I taught at Kimiga and while during a mingling exercise where the kids talked in English among themselves using phrases I've taught them the past six months, I overheard (in Japanese of course) a fourth grade boy telling a girl that he hated something or someone. I went over to them in the corner of the room and asked what he hated. He said the name of someone and I asked him if it was someone in the room. No, he said, it was sensei he hated. I asked him if it was the woman sensei at the front of the room and he said no, and repeated the name of Yamaguchi sensei, and that's when I remembered Mr. Yamaguchi usually taught this class and the woman at the front was a substitute. I like Mr. Yamaguchi, so I asked the boy why he hated him. He said, "Okama", and laughed. Okama means gay or fag in Japanese, and since the kid thought I wouldn't know what words like that mean, I surprised him by telling him that I understood and then scolded him for using that word and talking about his sensei that way. He was surprised that I understood that word, but I'm not sure why, as our entire conversation had taken place in Japanese.

Yesterday at the Junior High, I taught with Fujita sensei in an 8th grade classroom. I'm not sure why, but the eighth graders as an entire group are generally really bad students. They are noisy and disrespectful to the teachers in class and as Fujita says, they keep getting worse at English than better. No one knows why the 8th grade has so many problems. They are good kids, but they lack discipline and could care less about learning. I'm close with many of them on a personal level, but put me in a classroom with them and they really get on my nerves. So yesterday the class was being noisy and disrespectful to Fujita as usual, talking while she talked, students turned around in their seats having conversations with their friends. It's not Dangerous Minds or anything, but it's annoying. After Fujita assigned them a task to write a description of their town in English, around 30 words, she and I made the rounds while the kids wrote. There was this one girl who was one of the talkers that is still talking during all this, and she's loudly complaining in Japanese that she doesn't understand English. When I came up to her desk she continued to complain about this to the whole room, and I was so angry with her for being a brat that I leaned down and told her, "Motto benkyo shita hou ga ii desu," It would be better if you studied more, and her eyes got wide and her mouth dropped open. The next instant she was calling Fujita sensei over and literally telling on me for saying this to her. "Sensei, he said it would be better if I studied more." I was wondering what was actually going to happen for saying something that is well intended guidance to a student, because many people here think the foreign teachers should just be a sort of trophy piece, a pet, a doll (in the case of my friend Beth) and frankly that's not going to happen with me. If I don't get the respect I deserve, I'm going to let people know about it, and if it's a problem and they don't give me the right to reprimand and correct students just like any teacher, then I'd leave. Foreign teachers are here not just to teach language, but as part of teaching the students about another culture, because Japanese is such a monoculture, and foreigners make up a very small percentage of their population, so you get asked a lot of stupid questions, as if you were literally an alien from another planet (do you use shampoo, was one question I was asked when I first got here, to which Ohama told that student, "Of course he does! What do you think? Our cultures aren't THAT different!!"). So I waited to see what Fujita would do when the girl "told" on me, and she said, "So da yo," to the girl, that's right actually, and backed me up. I was really glad for that. It's how it should be. I asked the girl if she wanted some help, and she kept saying, "Jibun de, jibun de," (I'll do it myself)waving her hand and looking totally pissed off at me. I was okay with that. Later I came around and she had me look at her description, and it was nearly perfect, but she was short five words. I helped her come up with the last sentence to finish it off and told her she'd done a good job and she smiled genuinely and thanked me for helping, so she got over her initial anger (which was really just embarrassment from someone calling her on her lack of discipline).

At lunch yesterday, Sho Kimura, my baseball boy in the 7th grade, caught me in the hallway saying, "Mr. Chris! Mr. Chris!" and told me I would have lunch with his class today instead of the one I'd been assigned to earlier. There was a change and they had forgot to tell me. I said I'd be right back to go back up to his room with him, and he literally folded his hands together behind his back and did an almost military heel click and said, "Omachi shimasu!" I'll be waiting for you. The funny thing is, he used the most polite form of I'll be waiting that is possible, putting and "O" in front of "machi", adding "shimasu" at the end. Sho is something out of a different world almost, an old version of Japan in some ways, mixed up in the new. I've never met a kid who is so damned polite. When he clicked his heels and folded his hands behind his back and lifted his chin, I felt like I was momentarily transported to what might be an inkling of the formality that Japan used to have that has been waning over the years (from what I've heard). It was both incredibly stunning in a beautiful way and incredibly alien.

Today the classes were fun. I taught six of them, which exhausted me, but I still had a good time. Because I've gotten to a certain place with the language, their world is opening up to me more and more, and this is what I suspected about language all along, and am being reminded of it. The more words you have, the more you can know and the more you can mean and the more you can interact with the world around you. I'm able to understand questions the kids ask me that I didn't understand before, and because of this I can teach them all sorts of things that I wouldn't have been able to initially. I can improvise during my lessons a little more. For example, there's this one boy in one of the sixth grades who is very advanced in his English(he gets lessons outside of school occasionally too) and so he was asking me where I lived in Japanese and where my house was etc., and so while we talked, I wrote him out these questions and answers in English as well. Since he can read the alphabet and understands phonics, he can take those phrases home and practice them on his own.

It's setsubun in Japan right now, which is the vernal equinox, and part of the tradition is that they throw soy beans throughout the rooms of their homes to cast out devils or demons. They say, "Oni wa soto!" Devils go outside! And then follow it up with an order for good luck to come inside. They throw the beans around the room as they say it. At lunch today, I ate with a sixth grade class and the teacher handed out bags of beans and at the end of lunch she said, "Hai! Iko!" "Let's go!" and the kids all tore open their bags and started throwing the beans around the room and it was a big bean fight after a while with everyone running around trying to hit each other, and then there was a pause for the "Oni wa soto!" chant and then more bean fights. What a mess, but lots of fun. I was of course the special guest and got two bags of beans to throw. I shared them with the kids at my table, which scored me huge points.

During the next English class, while the kids interviewed each other using phrases I'd taught them, at one point they chased their sensei, a round and plump little middle aged Japanese woman, around the room, chanting, "How old are you, sensei? How old are you, sensei?" She was laughing and let them chase her and hang on her. I've never seen the sort of relationships between teachers and students here back in the states. The sensei was laughing and trying to shoo them away and not tell them her age, and then one kid came up to me and asked me what taiju is in English. I didn't know the word, so another boy got a dictionary, but we couldn't find taiju in it, so he ran and we asked the sensei what taiju is, and her eyes got big and she folded her arms in an X shape and shook her head vehemently and said, No No! No taiju! I thought for sure it was a bad word, until we finally found it. The boy said, Here! And I looked in the dictionary and it said, "weight". The sensei looked terrified by their new discovery. I said, "ah, okay. This is what you say. How much do you weigh?" and then they gathered around her and started chanting again, "How much do you weigh, sensei? How much do you weigh? 100! 100! How much do you weigh?" (That's 100 kg. I weigh 83, so they were calling sensei a biiiigg lady). "Yada yo!" she shouted at them. "No way!"

During a small break period, I sat in the teacher's office and checked my email. While I was sitting there, I heard something liquid dripping nearby and looked around to find a coffee pot was overflowing and still more coffee was being made by the coffeemaker. It was spilling onto the floor. I jumped up and didn't know what to do for some reason, and there was only a few teachers in the office, talking amongst themselves, who hadn't noticed the dilemma, and so I said, "Sumimasen, kohii o, um, um, kohii o um, um, gatsun!!" This got their attention even if I sounded silly. I didn't know how to tell them what was happening with the coffee maker, so I basically said, Excuse me but the coffee went bam!" Gatsun is a sound in Japanese for well, crashing into something. Like we say bam or boom, etc. They rushed over and turned it off and started cleaning up. I apologized and pointed to the overflow of coffee dripping off the table and said, "Kono kotoba wa shiranai," I don't know this word. I used my hands to make the gesture of the coffee spilling off the table. The lady cleaning it up said, "Koboreru, koboreru," and now I know how to say something is spilling.

I'm not sure if you can remember it, but I can remember as far back as when I first started talking, and asking my parents and adults all the time, "What's this? What's that?" and then when I learned how to read I started asking, "What's that word mean? Is this how you say it?" I can remember driving with my mom through a town called Cortland. At the time Cortland was a village, and I saw this on the sign at their border welcoming people and asked my mom, "What's a village?" She then explained how there are different sized communities and how we define them by size and population and their other various qualities and then explained what cities, towns, villages, and townships all were. And I can remember after that asking as we passed through other places, "Where are we now?" "Warren," my mom would say, or "Mecca" or wherever, and I'd ask, "Is it a city, town, village or township?" And in this way a piece of the world was being mapped for me.

It's that same process now, at the age of 29, happening all over again. Some people might think this would be a terrible thing to have to go through. But honestly, truly, returning to the beginning of language has returned me to a place that I can only describe as magical. I feel more in tune with the world than I have since I was a child, before too many associations accumulated around the things and words I have in English. The world feels open again, and limitless. If I have to give up everything I know and be okay with not feeling in control, I think it's a fair price to pay for what I'm getting in return.