Monday, January 30, 2006

My Elementary Japanese for Elementary Schools

For a few months now I've been writing lessons plans in Japanese for my elementary schools. One of them likes to know what I plan to do, so I started do it for all of them, though the rest are fine with me just coming in and teaching whatever I want. This is what my lesson plans look like. Japanese friends, go ahead and laugh. It's okay. But my elementary schools love me.

Strange Days

Today was a strange day. Lately the ninth graders have been taking practice tests for the end of the year to graduate and so I haven't been going to their classes. Mainly I've been going to the eighth grade, which is my favorite grade level anyway. But today the eighth graders finished their textbook and will begin their practice tests for the end of the year now. The ichinensei (oops, I mean seventh graders) have been doing this for a bit of time already, so I am now sitting at my desk in the teacher's office a lot, busying myself with whatever I can come up with and only seeing the kids at lunch and after school mainly, and in the hallways. So the day passed slowly today.

At lunch, I went to a seventh grade classroom to eat and was going about my business until I bit into this...I don't know what to call it. Something fried on a stick. I figured it was some sort of fish as usual, but when I started chewing I tasted something odd. I don't even know how to describe it, but I had definitely never tasted whatever this was before. So I asked the kid in front of me, "Ne ne, nani kore?" Hey, hey, what's this? And he is very excited although all the other kids at our table are groaning and making icky faces and giving him their sticks. "Oniku!" he says. It's meat! Well duh, I thought, I could tell by looking into the stick where I bit off a piece that it was meat, although it was really dark, like dark chocolate colored, and greasy looking. "Donna niku?" I said. What sort of meat? But his mouth is full now, so I turn to the girl beside me and repeat my question. What sort of meat is it? "Gujira," she says, "mazui ne!" Whale, it sucks, doesn't it!

Suddenly my stomach flips. I knew whale was being served again on coastal towns, but it hadn't reached Edosaki in the past year and a half I've been here. It's a meat and potatoes farm town. I've tried a variety of different foods here while I've been here, and honestly the only thing I don't like are the tiny little fish that they put in my eggs and salads occasionally at school lunch, the ones that look like noodles with eyes, and I don't like the small fish that have their mouths wide open and their eyes all frightfully bulged out, which are apparently popular breakfast food. Oh, and natto, really don't like it at all. Nasty smell and sticky/runny like half refrigerated jello. But I figure hey, there's lots of things I don't like in my own culture's food, I don't have to like everything here either. In fact, the vice principal is always impressed that I can eat almost anything they serve. But now I'm adding whale to my list. I tried another bite after knowing what it was, but it's just a strange tasting and feeling meat, and it just made my stomach feel unsettled. And for the rest of the day I felt that way.

There was a meeting at the end of the day, so I left school a bit early and sort of rushed out in order to get home and grab my gym bag and head off so maybe I could spare an extra hour of night for myself. But while I hurried, I forgot to put on my seatbelt, and just a few blocks from school a policeman was standing in the road waving some people on and telling others to pull into a parking lot. He directed me to the parking lot. I knew almost immediately why. I didn't care though. I was more annoyed with the whale I ate. So I park and the policeman comes over and gets the nervous look on his face, but asks if I understand Japanese, I tell him I can understand in general, he's surprised, but looks relieved. Then asks if I know why he stopped me. I play dumb. Then he says, your seatbelt, and then I play up my surprise and look terribly shocked and say, "Oh I totally forgot it!" He asks if I understand I have to wear seatbelts in Japan. I said that I do, and that in America we have to also. He says he didn't know that. Then asks for my license and starts filling out a form. Then he says, "There's no garble garble." It's the first word he's said so far that I don't understand, but wait, it ended with "kin" so I'm thinking this has something to do with money, and if I had one more millisecond I would have figured out that it meant "fine." Bakkin. Hello, new word for the day. I was excited to have gotten to the money meaning and was about to assume it meant fine, but he then said, "It's not necessary to pay," which is pretty simple Japanese, which confirmed my suspicions that this new word was "fine". I was very happy for someone who has been pulled over by a cop in another country, or any country period. And even better, no fine! Just a point on my license, which brings me to the older policeman who at first was laughing thinking his young colleague was going to have trouble talking to the gaijin but is seemingly not having any. He comes over and also tells me there's no fine. I tell him I understand. He's very surprised. Asks me where I work. I tell him at the junior high school. Oh, you're a teacher, he says. And asks if I understand the point system here. I say that I don't know, so he explains that if you get ten points on your license, you can't drive for a while. And if you get fifteen, you lose your license. Each year without a violation, a point can be taken off. I'm very grateful, and again happy because a year ago I would have had no clue what they were saying, and now it all seems really simple. But now the young policeman is having trouble writing my name. It's so long! Because on my Japanese drivers license it has my full name. And there are no nicknames here. I feel bad because he's not sure how to fit it all on the page and isn't used to writing in romaji often, so I tell him I can write it for him, which he thanks me for and I finish it off so it all fits neatly in the box. First time to help give myself a warning slip. But everyone is so pleasant and they are apologizing to me for giving it to me, and I'm thinking, you know, American cops could take some pointers from these two guys, because I'm more than willing to take my ticket and move on when everyone is so nice! I am then free to go and return home, still angry at the whale I ate but strangely, absurdly happy about the ticket. I don't understand why I get so stupidly happy about understanding another language, but I do. To the point that even getting a seatbelt ticket makes me happy. Hey, a new word is committed to memory. Bakkin hadn't been in my textbooks I taught myself from, and there's just words like this that I pick up now from situation to situation, and it's just a really interesting place to be at, language-wise.

Along with the whale bothering me, though, I think the real thing that was sort of bothering me today was an uneasy feeling in general, about leaving in a few months. One day I'm happy about going, the next I'm worried sick. Back and forth, back and forth. Just when I think I'm okay with it, my mood switches again. I'm going to assume this is natural for returning. A cultural trainer recently told me that the really hard part of what I've done the past couple of years hasn't happened yet. She said the hard part will be going home, that I'll feel disconnected, will find much of my own culture foreign, will feel alienated by family and friends who haven't witnessed my time away from them and the changes I've gone through, who will most likely be dealing with the person I was when I left them, because they weren't there to see the changes occurring in me. Yay! Can't wait!

So all this, as well as already a worry over what I'll do with myself for work and where to live when I return, has been preying on my mind lately. Last night I couldn't stop turning thoughts over so finally at two in the morning I turned on the light and took out the travel journal I bought in Thailand to record things about that trip in, and starting writing whatever came into my head down in it. And finally after about ten pages, I was tired enough and satisfied enough to go to bed.

It's been hard in many ways, learning how to live in a different culture, but it's been easy for me for a long time now, with only moments of homesickness now and then. And now when I find myself finally making the decision to go home, everything I know again is going to change. In a lot of ways, it'd be easier to stay in Japan at this point, but I think for that exact same reason it is time to go home.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Recommended Reading

The Locus Recommended Reading List is out, I see, and my story "The Language of Moths" made the novelette list. There's lots of interesting stuff on the list, which I will have to seek out in a few months after my return so I can catch up on stuff that wasn't available to read online.

Is Anyone Surprised? No? Then Why Are We Just Nodding About It?

How many more people are going to have to speak up about how our current government has tried to silence them from telling the truth that will hurt their already full pocketbooks before Americans organize to put an end to things like this? I mean, we're only talking about the future of our world's environment. Nothing *too* important, right?

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Progress Report

Chapter finished. Two more to go. I'm so near the end of this book I can almost taste it.

As celebration, I ate pizza with corn and bacon and tuna on it. Honest, it's really good and not even one of the odder things you can eat in Japan if you're a Westerner. I could have, after all, got a pizza with mayonnaise on it.

Good night.

Friday, January 27, 2006


It's a movie full of goodbyes.

And that's the saddest way to live.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Today I went to Kimiga Elementary School and had a great day. This is the school I had an not so good first impression of, and which I always get anxious about going to visit the night before one of their scheduled visits, but then every single time I go there I have the best time. Well, except for the sixth graders, who were the maniac fifth grade class that gave me such a bad impression last year and probably are the reason why I get whiny the night before I have to go to Kimiga now. Luckily they're not as bad as they used to be, but that sixth grade really needs help. I've managed to get them to at least behave in class now, though I'm not sure what they're learning, as this doesn't seem a priority to this particular group of eight kids (Yes eight, and I think that's part of the reason why they don't do well as a group, I think they need a bigger group to learn in. I don't know how to justify that feeling, it's just an intuition, but I think that if they had another eight students at least to mix with, they wouldn't be such a united front of resistance.) Anyway, after their class is done, and thankfully the scheduler has figured out to put them early in the day so it doesn't end on a bad note for me, the rest of the day is great. The other classes are filled with some of the brightest kids in any of the elementary schools, and they're so much fun. In the third grade today, there was a new student, and he was really shy around me at first, but then Ryouhei shouted across the room to him, "Hey, you can speak Japanese with him, it's okay!" (in Japanese, of course, third graders don't speak English that well, heck even Junior High kids don't) And then the new boy started coming round and asking me questions and we had lunch together and the third graders embarrassed their teacher by forcing him to talk to me in English. He asked me a question that was correct, and I answered, and then the kids told me to ask him a question back, but he was looking really nervous so I asked him a question using the same grammar he had asked me (a "have you ever done nani nani question") so he could not look so scared to not understand. And in the fourth grade we had ten extra minutes at the end of class in which I asked them if there were any English phrases they'd like to know how to say, which tested my Japanese ability, but I actually knew everything they wanted to know how to say, which were kid things like how do you call someone a stupid fool or tell someone to shut up or to stop something they're doing that's bothering them, or how to say I forgot to do my homework. This was very useful for one boy, who took out his notebook and wrote it out so he could practice. His teacher told me he never has his homework, so she will be hearing this everyday now.

After school, I went to the gym and worked out. Felt good leaving. Came home, have some weird mail I can't read very well from the government (tax forms maybe?) and then checked my email and found out I've sold my story "The Guardian of the Egg" to Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling for an anthology they're working on called Salon Fantastique, and was immediately brought up another few notches on the "good day" scale.

Made dinner, Pasta Carbonara, and am going to sit down and eat it now while watching a movie and perhaps won't work on the chapter of my novel that I'm nearly finished with as a bit of an indulgence inspired by the story sale, which was my first of the new year.

Oh, and something I forgot to note a while back: My essay, "The Boy Who Went Forth" will appear in Kate Bernheimer's "Brothers and Beasts" anthology of essays written by men about fairy tales this year as well.

Good night, and good morning.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Back Dormitory Boys

I helped my friend Naoko with a translation questions (I hope) and she paid me back by giving me the link to this site. It's hilarious. Not really a blog so much as a site to host the crazy videos made by two Chinese college guys, but it's definitely funny. Thanks for the link, Naoko!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha

I watched Memoirs of a Geisha this weekend and it was an odd experience to say the least. I mean, the story was good, but why were all those people speaking English when they are in Japan? And why are many of the actors Chinese when, again, this is supposed to be Japan? Japanese speakers have a different accent when they speak English than Chinese speakers of English. Everytime a Chinese actor spoke, I was like, they are *so* not Japanese! But more than anything was that here are all of these Japanese characters speaking English to each other with the occasionaly "Arigatou gozaimasu" thrown in for what? Cultural effect? Ooh, exotic when they choose to speak their own language at random moments, isn't it? I understand that this is a movie about Japan made for English speaking cultures, but really, it's just silly. Why can't English speaking audiences just stop being lazy and read some damned subtitles? Why can't Hollywood cast actors who are actually of the culture that is being portrayed? I complain because the story was basically a good one but it was just so odd to watch it now that I've lived in Japan for the past year and a half. It just doesn't match the reality. No film or book can, but I think that there is such a thing as falling short of even the basic illusion that a film or book can make of reality. I'll have to read the book, because the story was pretty good.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Good Morning Midnight

After posting my neuroses, I was informed that my story "The Language of Moths" will be reprinted in Sean Wallace's The Year's Best Fantasy: 2005 as well this year. Was very happy. And the table of contents was really interesting and fresh. You'll have to wait and see for yourself.

Then I was asked to speak to a new foreign student from China who can't speak Japanese. His homeroom teacher thought he might know English, and I helped her translate his class schedule into English, but when I spoke to him, he didn't understand. The poor thing looks so damned confused and scared. I hear he threw up during P.E. later. I would *never* want to go to a school that is taught in a language I can't speak. Unless maybe I was in first or second grade, third grade tops. It's easier to pick it up at those levels, when kids are learning how to read and write their own language and a foreign child could learn along with them. But eighth grade. That just seems like a lot to deal with at an already difficult age.

I'm reading Osamu Dazai's "No Longer Human". It's wonderful, though really disturbing.

I worked out with Beth and Kevin last night. Chest. Ouch. But I suppose if it hurts that means muscles are growing to heal all the ones I tore up. I have terrible triceps. But I can run!

Now it's time for bed. Tomorrow is Friday and I can't wait to have a weekend. This first week back after the mumps hasn't been too bad, but I've been getting tired more easily than usual.

G'night, or good morning if you're reading this from the other side of the world.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Weird Habits (Updated)

I've been tagged by Ms. Bond for the five weird habits meme. Like here, I don't know if I can fully recognize all my weirdnesses, but I'll do my best.

The first player of this game starts with the topic "five weird habits" and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don't forget to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says "You have been tagged" (assuming they take comments) and tell them to read yours.

1. I make a weird face whenever I have to do a physical activity in which I need to concentrate. I grit my teeth, so it either looks like I'm grinning fiercely or that I've got that permanent weird smile on my face like the Joker from Batman comics. This includes anything from lifting something heavy and trying to be careful with it, like moving furniture, as well as things like opening the lid of a glass jar that is stuck. I hate this face. It's horrible.

2. Before I sit down to write, I have to clean my room/apartment/house, wherever it is I'm living at the moment. It's not avoidance of writing either, because I sometimes get really upset with the cleaning because I want to go write and yet I *really* feel compelled to get everything in its place before I write. Messes will distract me for some reason.

3. If I leave to go somewhere and have to go back home because I forgot something etc., I sit down for five seconds before I get back in my car. There's nothing interesting about this other than it is a habit my grandfather made his children do, and which my mother made me and my brothers do as we grew up, but which I, if I ever have children, will *not* make them do, because it is stupid stupid stupid and I hate automatically doing it. I think the point of it originally was to make us slow down instead of being in a hurry. Actually, I've begun to break it in Japan as I don't have free chairs here in my little apartment, so when I cast about looking for one during these moments and can't find one, I can give up and just go.

4. I now say "Itadakimasu" before I eat and "Gochisousama deshita" after a meal if someone else has made it for me or treated.

5. I draw stars on scrap paper whenever I'm waiting on the phone for someone who has had to put me on hold to find out something or take another call etc.

And an additional oddity, though I'm not sure if it's odd on my part or on the part of those whose reactions I'm about to describe. I call my oldest brother Donnie John. Almost everyone in my family does. Whenever someone who knows me but hasn't spent anytime with me around my family hears me say this name for the first time they totally freak out and either say (if they can't control their mouth) or (from the looks on their shocked faces) are thinking "That is so The Waltons. Good night John Boy."

Who shall I tag? Let's see...Haddayr, Jody, Kristin, Elad, and Maureen.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Suggestions and Advice

Does anyone know if you can ship suitcases full of stuff overseas? You know, just suitcases, not boxes of stuff. I'm trying to make moving easy, and if I can just pack suitcases full of things and send them on ahead of me by a month or two, that would be perfect. I'm planning on staying in Japan a month after I'm done teaching, to see some places like Kyoto and Nara, and to finish anything that needs finishing on my novel before I leave. So I'll be staying with my friend Jody (as I have to give up my apartment in March) and just want to live out of a backpacker's bag for those few weeks and have the rest of my things already on their way home. Is this possible? Or is there a better way? Suggestions? Advice? Anyone? You can leave a message here or email me.

Much appreciated.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Reviewer in Exile

One of the toughest yet honest critics you'll find on the net. Here's Dolan on James Frey's new book, and again on his first book, the one under so much scrutiny at the moment. Apparently this guy was on to Frey (and a good many other literary scams) from the start.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Overheard at a lunch table

I'd forgotten this, but as I like to keep hold of funny things I overhear in Japanese, I'll post it for memory's sake.

Just before winter break began, I was eating lunch with some ninth graders and they were talking about one of the teacher's recently getting married. Hey Chris, one of them said, did you go to so and so sensei's wedding? No, I said. Didn't he invite you? they asked. He invited me, I said, but I already had plans to visit a friend in another part of Ibaraki. Oh, they said. I see. Then one boy turns to the others and says, So who did so and so sensei marry? The smart-ass of the group tells the others, Apparently a boy!

Lots of laughter.

Apparently so and so sensei is often made fun of behind his back. But this seems to be the case with teenagers everywhere.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

From New Year's Eve

Crazy night. Tried to go to two different dance clubs in Tsuchiura (note the spelling of this city, Jody, queen of spelling mistakes) but they were both closed. So we went to Tsukuba instead, where we found a bar that is noted for being a gaijin gathering place, which we had to make do with since our hip hop clubs were closed. We still had fun. Karina tried to edge the DJ out of his spot and take over (he *was* playing really stupid music). The unknown Japanese girl in the picture where I do *not* look amused was so drunk she kept touching Jody's breasts, wondering if they were real. Still a decent night was had.

Next: Feel bad for the size of my apartment compared to Maureen McHugh's home *office*.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Limbo to be Abolished!!!

Apparently the Catholic Church is considering abolishing Limbo. I'm so freaking out! That's where I live!

The funny thing is, reading this article about it, I don't understand how they can't see the nature of theology is a man-made thing, and has nothing whatsoever to do with what possibly or possibly may not exist after death.

Just got back from the doctor. He says, Mumps, and to stay home in bed for at least a week. And take painkiller.

It is obvious that I am sick in bed when I begin posting about the abolishment of Limbo. And yet it makes me curious about what I miss when I'm being busy teaching and writing everyday, all day long.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Literary Mystery Begins to Unravel

It turns out JT LeRoy is a girl? Or that he doesn't exist at all? Or what? Go read and be intrigued.

I Will Not Be Stopped!

New chapter in the next book finished today, mumps be damned.

KCRW Interviews

Last night I listened to Michael Silverblatt do an interview with the editor of the McSweeneys YA anthology, along with Jonathan Safran Foer and Kelly Link. I love the KCRW Bookworm Interview series. So when I saw one with Kelly in it was archived online recently, I decided to eat green tea ice cream and listen. It was nice to hear a familiar voice right then too.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Mumps (or something mumps-like) Link Update at bottom

It's not official, but most likely I have the mumps.

Yes, you read that correctly. The mumps.

Several weeks ago my friend Katie came down with a weird illness, which her doctors here said were most likely the mumps and sent her on her way home and told her not to go to work until it went away. About a week after that, she and I went to Thailand. Her puffy cheeks were still a little puffy when we left, but we honestly didn't believe it could really be the mumps. I mean, really, isn't that so early to mid-twentieth century? And I told myself, besides, we've all been vaccinated, how could it be the mumps. It must be a mumps-like illness. So off we went to Thailand, merrily merrily, and then fourteen days to the day of leaving (and close quarters living with Katie) my face began to swell. Fourteen days is the general incubation period for the mumps, too. Hmm...sounds suspicious. For the past two days it has looked like another face is trying to grow out of my left jaw.

Katie has just informed me that her test results came back as not mumps, but we have no clue what it is exactly then. My boss has told me to go to the doctor. On Monday. Because it's a weekend and there's a national holiday or something and apparently I won't be able to find a doctor till then. Last year when I tried to get a possible strep throat looked at, the only doctor around was a psychologist in an emergency room. Sigh. Luckily with the help of a friend we located a doctor in another town who was on duty in that town's emergency room.

Apparently vaccinations can lose power and you can indeed get odd, old diseases like the mumps if you're somehow exposed to them and your immunity from childhood has worn off. So I have nothing to do now but wait until Monday and take my pain killer medicine so I can't feel the oddly throbbing alien that is living in my jaw and throat (all the way down to my collar bone) and I am avoiding mirrors because it just freaks me the hell out to see myself looking like the elephant man's little brother.

Tonight I had a deep insight into how it must have felt for Frankenstein and lepers and all other physically grotesquified peoples. I don't want to really sit with that little epiphany for long though, not now, when I can't readily jump up and look in the mirror and see a healthy face looking back and think, well that's all over. I'll think about that in about a week, when I can.

Update link: while searching for information on the net about all this, I come across another blog which states this is common in Japan and might not even be the same mumps that we used to have commonly in America before vaccines.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Thailand is a mixture of the very lowest extremes...

And the very highest.

The streets of Bangkok are full of people selling anything from vegetables and fruits on their hanging baskets, to clothes that are knockoffs from the most popular fashions of the western world.

You find serene moments there...

And moments that you thought you might only glimpse in the pages of a National Geographic or your social studies textbooks from high school or least, that's how I felt growing up, that I'd never see anything like two Buddhist monk/ students anywhere but in a book...

Or fruits and vegetables I can't identify on sight...

And then I find myself in places I thought I'd always have to imagine, that I'd always have to be a mental traveler, and it's better than my imaginings, even though it's completely different at the same time.

And you find yourself in a city where even the lowliest gateway to a city street is decorated with scenes like this...

Where in the daytime the alley where the entrance to your hostel looks like this...

And at night like this.

It's a place where the Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho can be found inside it's temple ...

and a vagrant can be found out back, sleeping.

Where the animals of the city sleep wherever they please, whether it be a busy stairwell...

or amongst the temple offering grounds...

And then there's the islands in the gulf of Thailand, where it really does feel like paradise...

And in the North of Bangkok, where you can find floating markets like the one at Damnoesuduak.

It all feels like another world, and it is...

...another world where suddenly while you ride in your longboat to the market an elephant and its rider appear over the crest of a hill, as ordinary as the sun rising...

and where statues of demons hold up temples in the grounds of the Grand Palace.

I don't have much to say about Thailand. The pictures will have to speak for me at this point, until I've got my own thoughts processed, but it was a wonderful trip, full of discovery and a welcome period of streets full of German, Italian, Spanish, English, French, Japanese, Thai, Chinese, and many many other languages, all in one place. I ate Israeli, Italian, Thai, American, and Indian during the time I was there, and drank lots of good beer, as well as a bucket, a notorios "get drunk and get stupid" cocktail which comes, literally, in a bucket, to your table. A much needed vacation, though being there made my time in Japan feel dreamlike and my life in America even more like a dream than it had been after moving to Japan.

Next, New Year's pictures. After that, back to school in a few days.