Sunday, May 29, 2005

My weekend...

...was spent getting to know a co-worker better, translating for my friend Mona and some Japanese guy who thought she was cute (neither of them spoke the other's language) and drinking wine and watching movies earlier tonight with Katie and Mona, as we tried to pretend like Monday wasn't going to arrive and we would have to go back to work. We took a trip through the cemetary behind my house, though, and I finally found where the gong is that I hear ringing every morning at six a.m. sharp. Behind the cemetary, a little further along into the woods, we found this amazing huge temple. This is the thing I love about Japan. You think you know your surroundings, and then all of a sudden, it shows you something new. The temple was closed, so I want to go back on another day and see if it's actually visitable, but we got some decent snapshots from the outside of it, and also of the cemetery surrounding it.

And just for the record, it is so damned cool when you start to understand a language to the point where you can hold a semi-decent conversation and stop people in stores and ask them questions about stuff you can't necessarily read (because of the high irritation of a spelling system that has way too many characters, and that's one thing I won't back down on, someone needs to redo the writing system here, even the kids at school complain how many damned kanji they have to learn just to be literate) and in any case, if I can't read something, I can at least stop someone and ask about it, which is just as useful and I get speaking practice as well.

Along with all this, I got the most lovely phone call from Karen Meisner during the Ratbastards party at Wiscon, where everyone sang "Love Shack" to me over the phone. Tears, tears, tears. The phone was passed around to whoever was on hand at the party, so I got to speak to most of my peeps. I must admit, though, I *am* a bit worried about this apparently cute "Beck-like" boy who was going to be given the "Zakbar Award" later that evening because he was the closest thing to a diva this year. No worries. I am in the land of karaoke training and also as of now have lost twenty pounds in 9 months and so all I've got to say is not only will I be in prime form for singing karaoke when I get back, I'll be hot and whoever Mr. Cutie is better watch out.

And I hope David Moles did turn over the dessert dish for me.

Oh, and a cute little pic of me, Katie and Jody before last weekend night out in Tsuchiuara's hip little club, Orbit.

Oyasumi nasai!
(good night!)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Looks like...'s going to be a good one.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

All you Wiscon-goers

Remember to sing one for me!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Because, at the moment, I have no energy to blog

You scored as Cultural Creative. Cultural Creatives are probably the newest group to enter this realm. You are a modern thinker who tends to shy away from organized religion but still feels as if there is something greater than ourselves. You are very spiritual, even if you are not religious. Life has a meaning outside of the rational.

Cultural Creative
















What is Your World View? (corrected...again)
created with

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Would you like a quiz with that meme?

What Is Your Animal Personality?

brought to you by Quizilla

The Dreaded Music Meme

The Dreaded Music Meme

1. The person (or persons) who passed the baton to you.


2. Total volume of music files on your computer.

I have no clue. I looked around but it seemed like I'd have had to get out a calculator since I couldn't find a handy place that just told me how much.

3. The title and artist of the last CD you bought.

The Best of Love Psychedelico

4. Song playing at the moment of writing.

"The New Slang" by The Shins

5. Five songs you have been listening to of late (or all-time favorites, or particularly personally meaningful songs)

"Dareka no negai ga kanau koro" by Utada Hikaru
"Turn the Lights off" by Tweet
"With or Without You" by U2
"Better Version of Me" Fiona Apple
"Pretty Good Year" Tori Amos

6. The five victims people to whom you will 'pass the musical baton.'

Apologies in advance:


Friday, May 20, 2005

The Class Chart

I found the interactive chart on NYT that Rick mentioned in the comments of the article on class that I linked to earlier. It's an interesting chart, though I think it leaves certain factors out. For example, the region of the country you live in, grew up in, etc. I think there are class-oriented biases to that as well. But go ahead and give it a whirl and see what it totals you up to being on the class scale. According to it, I grew up lower middle class, and am now I have climbed to the bottom of the middle class because I have a Master's Degree (too bad said Master's degree comes from a reputationless school where in general only working class kids attend.) Certainly not for my salary or the my accumulated wealth or the social cache of my job. A decent chart, in general, though. Apparently in the past five years I have moved up 8 percentage points. Woohoo! What does it rank you?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Any ideas?

Also, I have a group of eight graders who want to play "American" games in the classroom. If anyone has good ideas, leave in the comments for me. And keep in mind that the level of English of the game should be mainly basic.


I still want to know more about her European travels though

You all should go and read this article over at the NYT. Two excerpts that really resonated for me:

"I think class is everything, I really do," she said recently. "When you're poor and from a low socioeconomic group, you don't have a lot of choices in life. To me, being from an upper class is all about confidence. It's knowing you have choices, knowing you set the standards, knowing you have connections."

And though in terms of her work Ms. Justice is now one of Pikeville's leading citizens, she is still troubled by the old doubts and insecurities. "My stomach's always in knots getting ready to go to a party, wondering if I'm wearing the right thing, if I'll know what to do," she said. "I'm always thinking: How does everybody else know that? How do they know how to act? Why do they all seem so at ease?"

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Has anyone ever run across this site before? I hadn't until I did a name check for myself on Google and came across this review of the Realms of Fantasy issue my story, "The Language of Moths" was recently in. Let's just say I like this reviewer a *whole* lot. I've always wanted to be a crowning glory.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Various Things

Last weekend my friends and I had a little get together at my apartment. Afterwards we went to the hip hop club in Tsuchiura. Much dancing ensued, though Mona, the new girl on the block, got a little sick and our night was shortened (probably for the better, looking back on it) so that we got home around three, I think. If Mona hadn't gotten sick, who knows what would have happened! Beth was slinking around in her little black dress, Katie (who arrived in Ami a month or so ago) was getting down with a rough-looking Japanese gangsta thug. Said gangsta thug's friend came up on me and "battled" me on the dance floor after I'd been dancing for a while. Kevin made friends with some guys making eyes at two halftime-show girls. Thank you for getting sick, Mona.

Some pictures (not of the club unfortunately)...


Me and Mona


Beth telling us how hard her stomach is. (We were very happy by this time.)

Also, went to Edosaki Elementary school today and taught third and fourth graders. The fourth graders had all written me letters thanking me for teaching them last year and telling me various things they don't always get a chance to say in person. It's so strange, because I sat down between classes today and read them all before I left to come home again. And this is what they looked like:

I've chosen to do a little translation (with some rough edges) of this particular letter (shown above). It's from a boy whose letter stood out for me because it was so familiar (some of the letters had a more formal quality to them, thanking me graciously in a semi-repetitive pattern, others were more personally stylized with little side narratives and the language they used was more impromptu than some of the more "formish" thank you letters). So this one goes a little something like this:

"Christopher Barzak sensei, how are you? I am (child's name--I can't read his kanji for his name yet and have to ask someone about it) of Edosaki Elementary school's fourth grade, but last year when you saw me I was in the third grade. Thank you for what you did at that time! We did a whole bunch of different things, didn't we? For example, the card games when you'd say a color and we'd race to grab the right card, stuff like that. Also, after that, you played the Animal Basket game with all of us. I couldn't sit down (editorial: part of the game, long story) but I was able to say a bunch of different animal names because of that. After that you gave everyone an American flag to color and told us about the stars and stripes meaning, and then after that we played dodgeball together during afternoon recess, didn't we! It was fun, wasn't it! I remember everything you taught us well. Thank you! From now on, us kids will be more open to learning English, thanks to you! Take care of yourself and do your best at whatever you do here! Goodbye!"

There was also one from a girl who admitted she didn't like English before I came, but that I've made it much easier to understand, and now she's teaching her mother at home.

Let's hope that's going well for them.

Monday, May 16, 2005

20 Epics

I heard from the lovely Susan Marie Groppi earlier this morning that my story, "The Creation of Birds", will be in the really cool anthology, Twenty Epics, that she and co-editor David Moles are putting together. Am very very happy. So looking forward to this anthology.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Still in one piece


Today I went back for my driver's test again. Guess what? I failed again. Why? Same reason. But So and so san at the end of the test said, "Better than before, Barzak san," then laughed. Jerk.

On the way home, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the mountains. I could see the sea suddenly at one point. I finally got turned back around and, while I was traveling through a tunnel in a mountain, a semi-truck driving beside my car slammed into the side of me.

I am not making this up. Yes, it's Friday the 13th here.

My life stopped flashing before my eyes in time to pull my car away from the wall of the tunnel thankfully. Then me and the semi driver continued driving until we got out of the mountain and were able to pull off the road and call the police. The policeman was nearby and was there in a flash, and suddenly I was barraged with questions in Japanese. Somehow I was answering back, though mostly I thought I wasn't making any sense. I used the conditional tense right for the first time, though, and was able to pick the right "if/then" statement out of the four choices they have here (which just screws me up all the time, we just have if and when in English for the most part). Sadly, even though I was able to tell the policeman (who had to be in his sixties, it seemed to me, and did not want to deal with a foreigner, or maybe just not accidents in general) that if he spoke a little more slowly, I would understand him. He did not slow down, but the man who hit me kindly did. When I finally got to a point where I couldn't understand something they kept harping on, I called my company and had my coordinator talk to them. An hour later, I was back on the road.

As I was driving back home, I was still in shock and pissed off at the whole thing that I was already mentally buying an airplane ticket. But then I got back to my company's office and as I was complaining about not being able to make myself understood, my coordinator told me that I *had* made myself understood actually. When she was on the phone with the police officer, she asked if he needed her to ask me questions over the phone but he said that I had been able to tell him when it happened, where it happened, and that when the man who hit me tried to say I didn't have my lights on so couldn't see me (making it my fault) I had said that wasn't true and that I was pretty sure I had them on. I gave him various forms of id when he asked for it and was able to say I wasn't hurt, and that the only thing I wasn't able to understand was legal and insurance terminology.

Which is weird, because the whole time I was representing myself, I didn't feel like I was representing myself well. But apparently I was able to enough to get the other guy's company to call mine and apologize and admit it was his fault within fifteen minutes after I was able to get back on the road. I doubt my own ability to communicate even while I'm doing it, but I guess I'm more capable than it felt. Also I was in shock of some sort, I think, the life flashing thing, and really just wanted to speak English really really badly.

Along with fantasizing about hopping on the next plane, I could not help but think about how that jerky driving inspector failed me again and then I get into an accident and it wasn't my fault. Totally not relational, I know, but still.

I think I need to karaoke.

And a side note for anyone reading. Be nice to residents of your country (whatever country it may happen to be) who don't speak your language, or don't speak it well or who are learning it. It's frickin hard, ok? You try it. (Noted because I cannot help but remember ignorant f***s who on occasion back home would say, "Learn the language!" whenever they heard someone speaking anything non-English. By the way, the USA doesn't have an official language anyway!)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Perhaps you thought I was kidding...

...about sorting trash in Japan?

And yes, the foreigners are the worst. If I was a landlord, I wouldn't rent to them either!

(I am sooo lucky my company and my landlord are good buddies--no eviction notices for me!)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Learning/Turning Japanese

Yesterday I went back to elementary school for the first time in two months. I had the last two months off from the little ones because there was a two week break between the end of last school year and the beginning of this one, then we had Golden Week recently, which is another week off from school, and then in the business of the schools starting a new school year, the five elementary schools that I visit had to each make schedules for the next year for me before I could come, what dates and times they'd like me to be there. I go on Tuesdays this year.

I had gotten used to not having to prepare for elementary school in two months, though, so I found myself the night before without any lesson plan. And I had three fifth grades and two fourth grades to teach the next day. Usually I would come up with a lesson plan several days before having to teach, then I'd have a Japanese friend or coworker help me translate some key phrases I would probably need to use in the classrooms while explaining what I'm trying to get the kids to do and say. But I didn't do that this time, and I had a moment the night before when I thought I might have a really bad day at school for my lack of preparation. I'd have to write the lesson out in Japanese myself.

So I sat down and wrote the notes for myself about the games and phrases I'd be teaching in English, and then tried to imagine what they'd need to know, and tried to imagine possible confusions and explanations I'd have to give about one thing or another in the outline of the lesson. Then I came up with what I felt would be appropriate responses to these imagined interruptions to the flow of the lesson and wrote them out in Japanese next to each section of my outline. I wondered briefly if any of my responses were way wrong in some way, but they all felt fine to me, so I decided I'd done my best and that was that.

So the next morning I headed off to Numasato Shogakko and the first thing that I found was that Mr. Okinobe, the vice principle last year, had left the school to move to another one. I was so disappointed. He was so sweet. So the new Vice Principle introduced himself to me and he seemed very nice and I liked him immediately, but I will miss Okinobe sensei a ton. He always came back to my desk and would pull up a chair and we'd try to hash out a conversation between the two of us in our broken English and Japanese.

I started teaching the fifth grades first off, and came into the room and greeted them as usual in English, but followed up with a little Japanese greeting as well, telling them it had been a while since we'd seen each other and wondering if they were all well and how their breaks had been. They were so surprised. One boy got bright eyed and shouted, oh Chris sensei has gotten really good at Japanese, hasn't he! They were all excited, which was a good way to start the class off, because however a class starts is how it will mostly go from there on out. As I taught, I had no problems whatsoever with any of the explanations I'd written out in Japanese for myself. Kids had questions and I was able to answer them before the teacher tried to intervene and puzzle something out. Questions came up that I hadn't been able to imagine, too, and I had no problem explaining those on the spot, after a moment of reflection where I looked at the ceiling and tried to group everything I wanted to say into Japanese. When a kid would raise his or her hand to answer a game question, I'd understand what they said when they couldn't answer suddenly. "Ahh! I TOTALLY forgot it suddenly!" and could follow up with a, "Oh that's too bad, but don't worry. Next time." All of this added up to probably the smoothest teaching day at the elementary schools that I've ever had, and I felt particularly happy because I'd done it all by myself, without even someone to check over what I'd come up with. I was able to improvise on the lessons I'd planned as well, adding things I hadn't thought to talk about the night before. I was able to show the kids how to distinguish between the sound of "b" and "v" and where to place their lips and teeth and tongue for their "r" and "l" sounds. These are the four most difficult sounds for Japanese kids to learn. "R" and "l" sounds the same to them. Same with "b" and "v". I was also pleased that I could look up from the kids from time to time and see that their teacher was just standing happily in the back, free to just enjoy the kids having an English lesson, rather than the pained look of concentration that they had when I first got here and didn't know anything and they had to do their best to figure out what I wanted the kids to do. The last English teacher before me had a hard time, I guess, and didn't learn much Japanese past the very basics to get by here, and the coordinator of the English program for the elementaries had had to ask the elementary school teachers to help her more by listening during her lessons and trying to figure out what she needed the kids to do.

At lunchtime I sat with a block of kids who had won the Paper, Scissors, Rock game in order to get me at their table. Early into lunch one little girl and a boy were having a little mean argument between them, and another girl put a halt to it by telling them, "Hey, he understands Japanese now. You better watch out or he'll tell sensei on you." To which the arguers looked at me with wide eyes and asked, "You understand Japanese really?" I nodded and they quickly made up and the boy turned to me and said, "Well then, let's have a conversation," a little like he didn't believe me. One of the girls posed the first question. She wanted to know what the most surprising thing about Japan was when I got here. So I looked at Tomoki, the boy who seemed to be challenging my Japanese ability, and said, "The thing that surprised me most when I got to Japan was when I met Tomoki. I thought, Oh no! Are they all like him?" The whole table cracked up, even Tomoki. A moment of pride. I have told a lie in Japanese before, and now for the first time I was able to be witty. Progress. After lunch Tomoki challenged me to arm wrestling, which then inspired all of the boys to want a turn at arm wrestling. I beat them all, except I let one boy win because he was so damned little and the others were all like, why are you even trying, Naoki? And when he won they were all impressed with him. Afterwards, Tomoki gave me a shoulder massage for all the hard work.

They then insisted I play at recess with them, so I trotted out with them to the field where eight months ago when I first showed up at Numasato elementary school and was asked to get on a little platform back in that dusty field and introduce myself to hundreds of little Japanese kids lined up like soldiers. (This was way back in September when I told them to do their best, and they all responded by throwing their fists in the air and shouting that they would and I suddenly felt very much like a communist). We played dodge ball, which is very different from American dodge ball in rules. The last time I tried to play I was clueless. This time I knew what I was doing. Still, in the end, Tomoki's and my team lost, and as we walked back in to school after recess he hung his head and kept saying, "There's no excuse for this. It's a shame, such a shame."

I was happy to exchange more than a sentence or two here and there with some of the teachers also. They all kept telling me I'm just like a Japanese person now. I do love the elementary schools, where they get to wear sweatsuits and shorts if they want. So much more laid back. I would actually probably love teaching there more than the junior high, and it's always total Japanese immersion for me on elementary school day. Which is good for me to get the practice I need. It's always so much more comfortable for me to practice Japanese with non-English speaking people. It means I can't switch back to English even if I want to, so I just have to get into that second language headspace and stay there until I start to think in it more naturally. Which is why I wish I had at least two days a week at the elementary schools. I need more of that.

Arriving back at home, I was hailed by a little old man on a bicycle while I collected my things out of the back of my car. He stopped his bike and started speaking English to me. He so wanted to have an English conversation and was so upfront about not having as many chances in his old age to talk in English as he did when he was a young man and more out in the world. I began to suspect that he had seen me coming and going from my apartment and had premeditated the drive by bicycle English conversation. He was very sweet, though, and invited me to play tennis with him sometime. I told him I didn't know how to play tennis and he said he would teach me, so apparently I may be forced into English conversation/tennis lessons sometime in the future.

And that was my Tuesday. Today, to cap it all off, I got chocolate and music and an advance copy of Carol Emshwiller's next novel delivered to my door. Yay! (Thanks Gavin!)

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Heads Up, Thumbs Down

Go read this. It's really really good.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Rya, Ryu, Ryo

I spent last night burning cds with Takao, laughing really hard about silly things that have happened at the school (Takao is a new teacher at Edosaki this year) as well as laughing about silly things that have happened to me as a foreigner here, and silly things I've said to people as I've learned the language. I had my horribly messy Japanese writing scrutinized, and some of my self-instructed homework examined, and spent an hour trying to figure how to make three sounds in the Japanese phonetics system that will be the death of me. Rya, ryu, ryo. We don't have these sounds in English, and I find them really hard to say. I even avoid many words that use these sounds, as I know I don't say them well. This is sad, because I avoid saying "I cooked" (ryori shita) and will choose "I made" (tsukuta) instead. This is fine, as I probably say "I made nani nani" in English as well, over "I cooked nani nani", but this is just one case. And I'm sure I say poor Ryu's name, my buddy from last entry, a little awkwardly. But after an hour of what probably sounded like zen meditation to my neighbors (rya rya rya, ryu, ryu, ryu, ryo, ryo, ryo) I have a better handle on the sounds, though my "ryo" still needs a little more work. It sounds more like "riyo" than "ryo". Hey, I can't trill my r's either, so Spanish would be out of the question. But I'm trying.

And also, the more I learn, the harder it gets. I think it was easier for me to improvise speaking with less grammar. The more I learn, the more I want to use the new grammar, but it gets harder and harder, and I have to concentrate more intensely than usual to speak now, unless I fall back on simple sentences. But I don't want to do that, so I've got to keep trucking, I guess.

Onwards and upwards, or is it upwards and onwards? Either way, it's in that direction I've got to go.