The bloggings of an Upstate NY-born Tokyoite. Now with 20% more verbosity!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

I didn't proofread this one. Heads up!

I love having random conversations in Japanese with the other tenants. Usually it's just a quick kon ni chi wa or a bow, but sometimes I get to practice my Japanese a bit. Flex my skills (lol). It's a confidence booster. As it turns out the spacey-looking younger dude down the hall (I always had suspicions - wait, still have suspicions he sniffs glue or something) is a Chinese major who has just graduated from college and can't find a job. It's a position so many people are in right now, job-hunting despite the fact that most businesses aren't hiring. Of course this situation is not limited just to Japan, but, it's as evident here, in a country so reliant on its exports that has felt the backlash of a slowed-down international economy, as it is in America.

This sure sounds like some kind of intro to an insightful blog post - gotcha! I'm just finishing preparations to leave for SOUTH KOREA in roughly 38-hours. I am naturally really excited, gonna see the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone), Seoul for 2 or 3 days and Busan for 2 days. Should be a time, either way. I'm debating what entertainment to bring on the roughly 12-14 hour trek; It's my apartment -> Narita airport -> Incheon airport -> Gimpo -> Seoul -> Gyeongsan. I wish it went as fast as writing that sentence. But I've always kind of had a strange love for long trips, they are usually pretty rewarding after all. I may read kuroame, "Black Rain," one of Japan's most famous works of fiction based on the Hiroshima bombings. I will probably also study (if you aren't sick of me talking about it by now) and play my DS for the first time in what must be over a month.

Even my 360... my wii... they are suffering from a lack of love. I can't help but feel that my priorities are shifting, I feel like I should spend my time (especially in Japan) more wisely. Someone else said I'm growing up, but this can't be true!! I'm much too young for that still. Although I suppose 100 years ago I'd already have 7 kids, so perhaps it's a fair deal.

I sprained something in my back at the gym. After my birthday party at an Izakaya in Shinjuku, then going to karaoke all night with a few friends, I made the wise(?) decision to work off my hangover, as I normally do. However, I did something wrong, and arched my back a bit too much when I should have only been using my arms, so now I got some funky neck pain and I saw the doc at the local clinic (same one that treated my arm-muscle strain a month or 2 back) about it today. Glad I got him before golden week. It turned out to be a full hour or so of electro-stimuli, massage-work and acupuncture, and I came out feeling not so much better yet, but, after some more appointments he says I'll be fine. The highlight of this wonderful lesson in pain was probably either me saying kore wa tanoshikunahi (this is not fun) and the doc finding it highly amusing or, hearing one of the others discussing me in Japanese mere feet from where I lay. "Yea he's an American, he's from New York. He does lots of weight training and plays sports and stuff." Hmmm, iiinteresting." I mean I can't imagine they have many foreign clientele, so I'm glad to give 'em something to talk about.

Still, laying down is a bit uncomfortable in some positions and my neck/upper back is still a bit sore. Waa waa waa, I'll live!

I don't have much of anything left to say. There's nothing to do but put one foot in front of the other and go forward. One more day of work (so cruelly placed after my weekend) and it's 7 days of NOT TEACHING ENGLISH.

P.S. Late/Old/whatever. LET'S GO BUFFALO! I never liked you T.O. but save my team dammit!

"A life left half behind, though no longer blind I can't yet see. I'm not the boy that I once was, but I'm not the man I'll be." - mewithoutyou

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Like dancing with a dead body"

The title of this blog comes from my neighbor and good friend Nick, from California. He did TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) in California for something like 7 years before coming to Japan, and is not only a good teacher but an all around good dude. I was venting about how unresponsive and unwilling to learn some of the kids I had to teach were last week, and he compared trying to each those who don't want to listen (regardless of age) to "dancing with a dead body." You try to drag them to and fro, but they never put forth any effort of there own, except maybe to resist, and drag you and everyone else down a bit. I get students of all ages like this from time to time, not just little kids who'd rather be playing their DS or baseball or Virtual Kancho: The Arcade Game or something. It's a pet peeve of any and every teacher I'm sure, and it's one of the biggest reasons why I will never ever become a high school educator. If I'm going to teach long term, I want at least the majority of those I'm speaking to to actually want to be there. To want to learn. Because when the student tries, and you struggle together, it forms a great bond and is an excellent and rewarding experience. When the opposite goes on, it's tiresome and discouraging. My current "dream" is to teach at the University level someday, not only giving me the ability to teach higher level material that I and the student should each find more engaging than a study of basic grammar ("What did you do on your last vacation" x1000 = my average week) but also reserving me the right to say: "Hey buddy, you don't wanna pull your weight? Then take a different class and quit wasting our time."

When I first began to get somewhat serious about academics, way back in the year 2004 - ahem - I took Philosophy 101. It was mostly a study of classical philosophy, which some find to be quite boring, loaded with abstract, archaic rhetoric and so forth, but I found it really interesting. My professor was one who took absolutely no nonsense, didn't allow students to voice their baseless opinions (even driving a few of the cockier space-wasters out of the class right from the start, which I greatly respected him for), and insisted that the only way to properly understand the subject was by reading old books. Old, dated, dusty books.

I learned a lot from that guy.

But there is always more to life than just the classroom. If there wasn't, this would be a trite and boring blog... well, maybe you think it's boring, but then why are you still reading?

Last Saturday I saw Melt Banana, Slight Slappers and a few other bands who failed to be nearly as good as the aforementioned two. SS put on the craziest live show I've seen in a while. Case in point: I brought my friend Andrew to his first real underground show. He's a lower classman from the same college as me who just began a study abroad in Tokyo this month, and also an all around good dude. When he finished his tallboy of Strong Seven half-way through SS's set, and seemed at a loss as to what to do with it, I, feeling the complete chaotic nature in the air, chucked the can in the air, and it landed on stage. The singer - a spazzing guy with sweatpants and a face that looked like it belonged to a mental patient - picked up the can and shook out the last drops of it before somersaulting off of the stage. There were guitars flying and people too, no exaggerations here. Those are the kind of awesome sets I love to see here, and one of the greater advantages to living in the Tokyo area.

I reached 1000 learned kanji the other day, a mini-conquest in my Japanese studies. I jumped for joy at 1 in the morning. I also recently found a 10-story bookstore in Ikebukuro, from which I've bought some useful study books and will probably get some English novels at some point too. (It was entirely strange, walking through an aisle with English language books after I've scantly seen any outside my room in the last 8 months. I'm not sure you guys can follow me here, so just take my word for it)

I skipped cherry blossom viewing (a huge deal in Japan) for overtime a few weeks back, but didn't really regret it. There are a lot of beautiful trees near my apartment, and I got to stroll through them from the budding stage to the peak of blossoming, to that lovely half-green half-pink phase which truly signals the arrival of Spring.

Oh, and talking about Spring, allergies are still kicking me hard in the ass. Sinus headaches ahoy. It's just like being back home!

Oh, home. With my birthday fast approaching this week, and having spent well over half a year here, I'm starting to miss it a bit. This is a beautiful time of year in New York as well as Japan, and while I'm grateful to be experiencing the latter, I still miss my all my friends back home. I can however look forward to taking a nice, lengthy 3 week vacation (!!!) in NY next Christmas, as I just secured a roundtrip ticket for only 1000 pesos. Thank you, declining economy!

Last week was the first week of new classes and my new contract schedule, as the first two weeks in April had been a buffer for job training and such. How was it? Incredibly busy, slighty disorienting. All around good though. First day of 3 kids in a row involved one crying profusely upon the very sight of me and hugging his Mom for dear life (he warmed up to me by the end though). Another, a 7 year old actually starting bawling after losing at shoot the basket, to which I panicked slightly but managed to handle. I thought to myself: What was it like to cry in front of others at that age? Most likely you wouldn't want to be seen. So, I pulled in the staff member, and on a whim said: "OK guys! We're gonna play "guess-how-many-fingers-Ikko-is-holding-up," and proceeded to dump a huge colored parachute-toy over his head. This with some pictionary managed to take attention off of the kid, and by the end he was dry-eyed and fine. I think things should go much smoother next week.

Oh, I almost forgot! On my first day of work last week, I got up at 7:30am on Tuesday to visit the Immigration Office in Shinagawa to get my "re-entry permit" so I could go to South Korea over Golden Week. Long story short is the rush hour trains were dumb crowded, people falling over like dominos when the train would come to a halt and the one hungover businessman standing up half-asleep would tumble and cause an effect that put the majority of the car in pain. I hate rush hour here. Long story short (too late) I caught a bus out of Shinagawa, and it was the wrong one, me being in a hurry I didn't bother checking. I walked a bit, caught a different bus, walked more after receiving directions, saw some huge construction machines while walking through what was obviously a serious industrial district, until I arrived at the glorious Immigration Office.

They say that people at these kind of offices are rude. We Americans complain about our DMV service, I've heard from others it's just as bad at X public office in Canada, Britain, New Zealand etc. Japanese people seem to think this the case with the Immigration Office as well (assuming they ever have to go there for travel purposes), but I disagree. For government employees, they were really friendly and polite, compared to some of my past experiences in America. Besides having to wait in line twice, since the middle step involved walking to a convenience store conveniently built inside the Immigration Office to buy a ticket and go back in queue, I was out fast enough. I hightailed it to the bus, the station, already feeling the stickiness of 97% humidity (I was wearing my suit, as I had to work later), got off at Kawasaki instead of Yokohama for some brain-fart of a reason, came back, got to Yokohama, and went to do a job involving monitoring of certain hardware for a certain company I'm certainly not allowed to discuss on the internet. It's not as cool as it sounds, but I did make my normal days salary in 2 hours for bug-testing hardware and software, and that's pretty cool.

Two curry buns and a train ride later, I was in Ginza for my normal job. It was busy and somewhat stressful, my e-mail failed and I had to prep a lesson plan for 2 of my new classes, but I managed to triumph in the face of adversity. I liked my new students and I believe they had fun as well. I was however so overly caffeinated by the time I caught the train home that I had the shakes for a bit, and literally collapsed in my bed, but hey, all in a days work.

What else. I could go on. I can always go on. It's my job, in fact, to go on when there's nothing to go on about, simply for the sake of filling empty space with vibrations that sound like a coherent conversation until the clock strikes a certain time. This is also known as rambling.

Today, I went to Japanese class, and invited my fellow students and teacher to come to my birthday party on Saturday. I (for some reason decided) I should have one, at a cheap bar with lots of good food, just my kind of low-key place. Maybe some Karaoke afterward.

I also visited my friend Ann who is sadly bedridden in a hospital, no fun at all. Unfortunately on my way to deliver her something besides hospital food (an Avocado Veggie sub to be precise), I was the victim of the most severe migraine I've had in, quite literally, years. My head felt like it was going to split open, I sweat profusely, got the chills and felt waves of nausea. I have no idea what triggered it, I had been feeling fine up until that point. I don't think today's lunch of garlic pork was to blame, anyhow.

So there I was, visiting my friend in a hospital, but in miserable shape myself, and she ironically enough was quite peppy and in a good mood (happy to have a visitor of course). I laid down on her bed, borrowed some headache medicine and veritably filled in as a patient for a few hours. It was a strange experience to say the least. But good to see a friend and see her get all embarrassed when the nurse asked her "did you stool today?" =D Love ya Ann.

The migraine did pass after about 4 or 5 hours, but man, what a whopper. If that happened during work I'd be pretty useless. Here's hoping it doesn't.

I'm fresh out of material so let's call it a day. South Korea in 9 days, and I can already taste the kimchi.

"Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it." - Big Trouble in Little China Town.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who says I'm a dork?


Long story short, due to aforementioned "New (Fiscal) Year," time has been short, and I've been filling my free time with things besides the blog. I haven't abandoned it, just put it on the back-burner for a while. My schedule this year is full but awesome, I just worked at a school 15 minutes away. 15 FREAKIN MINUTES! After almost 8 months of 40+ minute commutes, I at least have a short one to look forward to each week! And on the whole travel time has been reduced quite a bit compared to last year. (Incidentally, said close school happens to be my favorite)

I wish I had a thousand interesting anecdotes to share about my exciting double life of rogue English teacher and being a wacky foreigner who cannonballed into some ojisan onsen (old man's hot spring) but alas, it's been rather quiet outside of work. I saw Watchmen the other ngiht and was greatly impressed; it was cool to see a movie in Japan, (almost felt like home with the amount of white dudes there), just like America save the Japanese subtitles at the bottom. Those provided an interesting "subtext" (if you will) to see how certain phrases - namely vulgarities - were translated. My favorite part was when the hot female lead said "Let's go," and it was translated as "iku wa yo." To give any non-Japanese readers context, that's a super-girly interpretation (the gender qualities of language are a great dichotomy here) which could be accurately translated back as "OMG, let's like totally go." My friend said she thought an older man must have translated it.

The sound system was also absurdly loud. I don't know if it's me or it was just that movie or the projection guy fell asleep on the volume button or what, but my ears were ringing afterwards.

Completely unrelated, I highly recommend "Freshness Burger" for anyone seeking a good, cheap, American-style hamburger in Japan.

I recently read Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, and excellent suggestion (thanks Kerri), and am currently reading Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin (same guy who has translated the most recent works of Haruki Murakami, the famed Japanese author). This dude has some really profound essays about the problems we Westerners face regarding understanding of Japanese grammar and nuances, and he's pretty funny. Highly recommended.

My blog momentum just died. Like a hamster running on his wheel at full speed until his squeaky little self gives. Get back to you all shortly.

P.S. I made my facebook public, featuring new pictures from a recent Kamakura trip. Enjoy.

"I think I'd like to go back home and take it easy, there's a woman that I'd like to get to know, livin' there, everybody seems to wonder what it's like down here... Gotta get away from this day to day runnin' around, everybody knows this is nowhere" - Neil Young and the Crazy Horse