Monday, June 27, 2005

A difficult thirty: updated

I had a number wrong in my postal address, thanks Yoshio, for correcting it! Now it's corrected on here too.

Birthday, July 21st. 30 years old. I can't believe it. Send things to make me feel better. Or younger.

Chris Barzak
Ahban Haitsu 202
1375-1 Wakaguri
Ami, Inashiki, Ibaraki
Japan 300-0333

Or Amazon's wishlist, which is always easy. It'll get sent to my mom, but she'll bring it to me at the end of the month if she gets it on time. (Or actually you might be able to select it to send directly to me in Japan, either way should reach me).

I'm going to be old. Make an old man feel young, why don't you. Material goods not necessary. Happy wishes, fond farewells, declarations about how hot and young and cute I look for a thirty year old--all those will suffice!!!

I'm easy, but not that way!

Just some pics

I've changed my blogger picture as Justine felt the previous one as too evil-eye-ish. Hope this one is better, luv.

Nothing much happening that is blogworthy. Figured I'd post a few pictures of the last elementary school I went to. The kids are incredibly cute. Here they are playing a game called Fruit Basket. Old school English game. Don't really feel like explaining it in writing. It's actually a boring game, but they love it. They are little and easily amused.

A group of boys posing for the camera...

A little girl who kindly gave me the opportunity to photograph her:

And now apparently blogger has decided not to upload anymore of my pics. So the rest will come some other day.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

My girls, Margaret and Kelly

Whatever good Margaret has said in the past to piss off sf readers and writers, she's not saying now. And I've always felt that even if she hedged her bets in the past, she was trying to find a position for herself that was comfortable. I myself think that many definitions of what sf is could be very narrow and overly-defining for my own comfort, so I've always been a bit understanding of Margaret. But for those who want hardcore fan-atacism, here it is. Why Margaret Atwood thinks sf is essential.

Also, I just finished reading Kelly Braffet's Josie and Jack. Now I want to be her boyfriend.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Rabid Transit

This year's Rabid Transit is back from the printer, if you didn't already know. It's a good selection of fine, fantastic stories as usual. So go here and buy a copy for yourself and your friends. And if you haven't read the first three chapbooks, order those as well! In fact, the more you order, the cheaper it gets!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Post Secret

This site is way way cool. Thanks to Elad for linking to it.


Karen says:
In other countries I always develop huge cravings for American fast food too. And no, the burgers never taste right abroad, not even a little.

On the other hand, you are living in the land of fresh sushi, so I have limited sympathy.

Well since you are so quick to limit your sympathy, I feel obliged to inform you that every Wednesday I have to sing songs by the Carpenters, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, The Bear Song (that old campfire song where the kids repeat everything after the lead singer "The other day/THE OTHER DAY, I saw a bear/I SAW A BEAR etc etc), and You Are My Sunshine. On Fridays I have to sing Stand By Me with the special education kids. During Christmas time, I am forced to lead everyone in a round of carols which include George Michael's "Last Christmas" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas". These songs are enormously popular here. So far, I've managed to escape John Denver, though I've been asked to listen to performances of Country Roads on recorders (that was a sweet but weepy day, as the damned song reminded me of home so much).

I am also repeatedly forced to humble myself by demonstrating various other "American" things. Singing Old Lang Syne at New Year's for my classes, showing the difference between what a "jump" is and a "leap" (they were learning sayings and proverbs in English, for example "Look before you leap"). careful when you limit your sympathy for me. There is so much more even that I don't mention. Humiliation is a weekly occurrence here, so give me my damned Burger King already.

Actually, all of that stuff is sort of fun, but still...humiliating at first, as if I'm an animal in the circus forced to leap through rings.

My favorite time with the kids is when we just hang out during afternoon break in the courtyard, on the picnic tables, sort of aimlessly chatting about nothing in particular. Or playing baseball at recess with the boys when I'm teaching at an elementary school. Or gossiping in the hallways between classes, arm wrestling challengers, running track after school or working with the English speech team after school, pulling weeds with Chiaki during cleaning time. She's hilarious. I now wear a bandana on my head like all of them (teachers included) during cleaning time. Chiaki told me I should wear one. It's tradition. So I bought an American flag print handkerchief, which they think looks tres cool. I've never been so patriotic in my life as I am since becoming an expatriate.

Friday, June 17, 2005

For future endeavors

So the homesickness is a wavering entity. It comes, it goes. One day I am happy as ever to be here, the next wanting the Hotdog Shop in Niles, Ohio just for an hour of my life again. I sometimes fantasize about having my mother smuggle hot dogs from there onto the plane, but wonder if they'd even make it intact during the thirteen hour flight. Or even a roast beef sandwich from Arby's. That would be soooo good right now. Yet again, thirteen hours later, how good could it be? How sad to desire such monotonous fast food, and yet how keenly my stomach's and taste bud's memory urges. I think I may try to convince mom to bring something from one of these places no matter what, even if in the end it's no good. It's worth a try. Or Burger King's chicken sandwich with cheese. Oh god. Terrible food, yet after ten months of healthy-lose-twenty-pounds-by-just-moving-here-food, I am willing to try anything. The best I have here is a bad Mexican knock off of Chi-Chi's and a so so Mediterranean place that offers gyros that aren't exactly gyros, but suffice for the most part in these times of differential need.

After the first nine months, I didn't think I'd ever be the whiny bitchy I want some American food guy, but it seems that I have become exactly that. I've made my peace with that, though, because I figure for all I'm going through here (for example, I had to stop and think about that phrase, how does it go? I've made my...what? how does that saying go again?) I deserve some damned fast food of the quality I've become accustomed to, even if it does put ten pounds back on me just from looking at it. Hell, in a month, I'll lose it again anyway.

But, as I said, off and on, some days great, some days growling like a starved dog, depending on how much sleep I get and how my day goes in general. Would like to think this is preparation for some future endeavor. Who knows? Maybe it is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A Hole in the City

A good, sad read. Trust me on it.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


For the past couple of weeks, I have been homesick. I think in the past month or two I had felt something bothersome building up inside me but I didn't understand it and couldn't name it, and even thought perhaps I wasn't getting enough sleep or not doing enough exercise or taking enough vitamins or whatever other excuse I could think of. And in the end it was homesickness brewing all along.

It's a strange feeling. When I first got here, I had bad days, but I know now they weren't homesickness. Those bad days in the first couple of months were just a feeling of general estrangement and culture shock. Getting used to my new culture. It sometimes felt like what I thought at the time homesickness must be. But I know it's different now. Of course it's different. The real homesickness, I now know, is when suddenly nothing sits right with you--food, entertainment options, conversations, work--everything and anything is cast in a sort of tainted light and there will always be something missing from the world surrounding you that you can't replace because it isn't available to you. It's thousands of miles away. It's being able to not have to think about everything you want to say at a store when you have a question about a product, or it's wishing you could strike up the same easy free flowing conversation that you could do back home with the woman running the check-out counter at the convenient store, or that tug of a specific piece of earth calling to you, that place where your heart and spirit took root and grew from its soil. There are so many things I love about living in Japan, and so many reasons that I'm glad to be here, but being glad to have this time in Japan can't combat something that goes beyond being in your own culture, living and breathing the language without thinking about it in general. I spent the last four nights finding restaurants to eat at that had any kind of food other than Japanese, just because I needed something that might vaguely remind me of home food. I've baked much of the stuff Maureen (thank you so much again) graciously sent me, brownies and cookies and such. I've been reading M.T. Anderson's Thirsty (which is wonderful so far) and have been reveling in teenaged American vernacular and insight and thought patterns. Everything seems familiar and strange at the same time. If reading a book can give me that feeling at this point, I wonder what things will feel like when I actually go home one day.

I didn't grow up moving around, like many people do. My family has lived on the same piece of land for four generations now. And although out of my family I somehow inherited a wanderlust to go to places outside the scope of a small farm town in Ohio, there's a great big piece of me that has been made from everything that exists on that piece of land, as well as the land itself. I've lived in different places at different times of my life, California for half a year, Michigan for two years, but Michigan was still close enough to home to not feel it was out of reach (and it was still the Midwest) and I wasn't in California long enough to feel what I'm feeling now, I think. It's a phase, and it will pass, but while it's here, it feels very much like a spiritual malaise of some sort. Even while I'm happy to be here and doing what I'm doing, all this "stuff" is hanging around, drawing my attention over my shoulder at various times of the day. I don't want to go back to America even so, not right now. I have time for that, and I feel that being away from the country is important for me right now. But I do wish I could just have a piece of home somehow, even for an hour, to sate this thirst for it lately.

Luckily my mom will be coming to visit at the end of next month. It'll be almost a year since I've seen her. I'm thinking her coming will help a lot. And then after she leaves, I may go to Australia for a short holiday. The flights seem particularly reasonable at the moment, and I could really use a dose of living in English again, even if it's Australian English and they use words like "jumper" and "mate". (Nudge nudge, hehe to Justine). So perhaps by the end of August I'll be back in good condition to do my next half a year to a year of being here that I plan to do.

There are a lot of difficult and strange experiences in the near future, I can foresee--coming home, trying to figure out how to live there again, to find work, to find some way to live in a place I'd like to live. New York City or Boston, or various suburbs of either, I really want to live on the coast, and in a city, but figuring out what sort of work I might be able to get in those places still confounds me. I have a Master's degree in English, have sold some short stories, have a really good agent and a novel that may sell someday, so you know, things could be worse. But I'm not what you would call someone with a lot of career options really. On top of that, there'll then be a time where I'll have to deal with not being in Japan any longer, because it's already become a part of me now, like America. It's nourished me while I've been living here. You take your soil with you no matter what. It all seems like it'll be a lot to deal with, but I'm confident I'll deal. After all, I've somehow managed to teach elementary school kids in another language, so after that, I feel like I can do just about anything. But for now, I'm homesick and will be waiting for when my mom arrives. It'll be like when a package from home comes and before I even look inside to see what's in there, I open the flap and smell. No matter what or who it's from, it always smells like home.

Friday, June 10, 2005

This is where I used to live

Flannery O'Connor, meet Youngstown, Ohio...


Just got back from a night of drinking with friends at an izakaya (like a pub, where you can order small dishes and everyone shares while they drink.) Among those included were fellow ex-patriots who teach English here, and also my friend Mona's Japanese boyfriend and a friend of his who I interpret for and to when there are no other Japanese English speakers around. At first it was me and Mona, then her boyfriend, Masahiro, and his friend, Toshi, showed up. A little later my Japanese teacher, Karina, and her boyfriend, Peter, came, and they arranged for Karina to teach Masa and Toshi English on Fridays. Then Katie came along after she was done having a dinner party with her fellow schoolteachers, and we had a grand time. Before and after Karina came and left, I did most of the talking for and to Masa and Toshio. They're really great guys. Very sweet and funny. Toshi is such good people. He's going to study English with Masa to make it easier for him, and he really hasn't got any reason to other than he wants to. But it's not like it's essential for him to be able to talk to anyone in English. They do bodywork on cars for a living. No real need for English there. So Toshi scores big points in my books. Masa's got a good friend there.

In other news, I found this link through Chance, and am quite appauled. I have to admit, there are many times when I miss America, when I have a tug in some part of my essential being where I want to get on the next plane and come home to be where that core part of my self was formed is. But then I read things like this and think, I'm better off here for now. I don't know how much worse it has to get before Americans will take a stand and say they do not want this sort of government, and *demand* that it change. America was forged on freedoms. On freedom of expression and speech, and it's a shame when the secret service shows up at someone's door to question them about why they are posting negative things on their online journal about the president. Sorry folks, but that sounds like the old red days of communist Russia where you couldn't open your mouth unless you were going to say what the leaders wanted you to say. This has got to stop. And people can't be silent about it. When you're silent, it only allows them to continue doing things that are wrong.

And what our government is doing is wrong.

Speak up.

Friday, June 03, 2005

So and So san goes down!

That's right. I now have my Japanese driver's license. Actually So and So san's colleague, So and So san II, gave me my test today. I actually for a moment wanted So and So san the first again, because the new So and So san was literally failing test takers halfway through the driving test and making them return to the car bay unfinished. The rest of those of us waiting to take our tests were freaking out. Everyone agreed he was the most strict examiner they'd ever seen. I thought for sure it was just going to be another wasted test day, but then when I got in the car I chatted the old boy up in Japanese and made him laugh, and afterwards he told me I passed with a big grin on his face and told me I spoke good Japanese.

And then I went inside the building and around a corner where I did a little two second dance before going to take my picture for the card.

Japan 5, Barzak 6 (This includes former karaoke battles, driving test failures, so-so medical treatment, and a car accident in the mountains).

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Long ago and far away

I'm sitting in my living room and watching a channel that I stumbled upon an hour ago that is showing American and British music videos. Right now UB40's "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" is on. The video with the clips from that movie "Sliver" included in it. Now Elvis Costello's "She" is on. It's rather odd because it all seems so familiar and makes some part of me long for something vague (obviously vague, as I keep using "something" a lot). It's like looking back on a picture of yourself when you were a kid. You know it's you, but at the same time that person in the picture is someone you knew long long ago, and you're strangers now in many ways. That sort of feeling. (Sonna kanji). Something that's inside of me but far away is being plucked by the familiar words, music, images. But it all is rather strange at the same time. It makes me think about Isak Dinesen's "Out of Africa" where the book starts with the simple sentence, "I had a farm in Africa," which completely captures an understated emotion of something really grand actually, and also in the past, so also a bit of a lamentation.

Oh but Gwen Stefani is on now, so the mood is ruined.

Well not completely.

Anyway...the brownies along with the music are spinning my wheels tonight. Excuse the choppiness of these ramblings.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Translating for the language handicapped

I have just spent the last three and a half hours on a date between a Japanese twenty-four year old guy and an American twenty-six year old girl, neither of whom know the other's language. They saw each other at a restaurant last week and had chemistry, I guess, and somehow managed to exchange phone numbers. Afterwards, while she was trying to talk to him somehow on her cell phone, she eventually gave it to me and I arranged for a night out between his friends and our posse at karaoke this past weekend. Tonight was the first date for the two of them (and me as their "translator").

So I can't talk deep deep stuff in Japanese, but I managed to convey for them what each was talking about in a general way. And I learned a couple of things too. And apparently this guy is seriously liking Mona because he's going to meet us after our Japanese class next Friday for his first English lesson (where he also gets to hang out with Mona at the same time, making it worthwhile). I have no clue where this will go, but by the end of tonight, Masahiro and I felt like we'd been the ones on the date. If those two don't start learning each other's language soon, I'm going to start making out with him. He has a really big SUV and good cologne, so why not, I figure.

Okay, that's totally materialistic, but, well, you spend the night saying sweet nothings into someone's ear for someone else, telling them they're cute and sweet, and getting the impact of their response before delivering it to the recipient and you'll start wondering where your part of the cake is too.

No, really, it was fun and a pleasure to do what I was able to do for them. But really really weird also. I've never been on that sort of date before, sort of ghostlike but very present at the same time.

Now time to bake some brownies. Or go to bed. Which will win out in the end?

The not a con report

Since I have no con to report on, I will just report that I got dark chocolate fudge brownies and chewie fudge brownies in the mail today from Maureen McHugh. Well, I have to make them, but I got them all the same. So nyah. Obviously this little spiel would work better on my fellow ex-patriots who are hard up for brownie mix, and not homeland Americans who have all the brownie mix they want. And then some. But still, nyah. Dark fudge brownies from Maureen beats cons any day (he keeps saying).

Also, if you look to the right of this entry, you will see a very cute boy (at least while this journal entry is at the top of the blog).

Now back to life as usual...