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

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Can I write an entry in 5 minutes?

I'm about to go to work but wanted to crank something out really quick. I just finished Haruki Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore," a surreal and metaphysical rollercoaster ride of a book. Highly recommended to anyone who is looking for an author with a more unique flavor.

I'm trying to read more Japanese authors, and picked up a great book that offers English translations and grammar/nuance explanations along-side the original works. (it's called "Reading Real Japanese Fiction") Hopefully this can be a kind of springboard for me to get closer to reading real Japanese books, not just comic books. That is an ultimate goal of sorts. As much as I do love Dragonball and all...

But I've realized that there is no magic bullet. While I am slowly accumulating knowledge, there's no way to set the process in hyper-drive. Just have to take it day by day and turn this hill into a mountain.

It's rainy here in Japan. Thunderstormed the other night. Weather felt really homey to me, honestly. I'm looking forward to the rainy season because I'm strange like that.

I had two kids cry in my classes last week, but yesterday they went off without a hitch thanks to some pro-teacher's advice. I feel much better about all that.

Things are very busy.... Seeing Nick off Sunday night, which will be rather bittersweet. Just doing what I'm doing, so I can one day leave behind the English teaching racket and move on to bigger and better things. Nothing else to report...

Except another roach! I set up traps and have spray at the ready. Come to me you little bastards....


"Look deep inside. Can't change the world but you can change yourself" - Sick of it All

"According to you, our songs should separate all the girls from the boys" - Polar Bear Club

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's up too loud

It's about 2am, I'm getting ready to hit the sack, and as my ear touches the pillow, I hear a familiar sound I've come to loathe: the pumping bass lines of techno music from my neighbor downstairs. The walls (and floors, apparently) really are paper thin around here. The kids outside make noise in the morning, trucks with megaphones playing pre-recorded audio advertisements (that would doubtless be considered noise disturbances in America), and sometimes this guy directly beneath me plays his music and it wakes me up earlier than I like. Until now I've left it all as somethings I have to deal with, have put in earplugs or whatever, although they don't help much with vibrations coming from beneath...

It's one of those things that's immensely harder than it should be: knocking on the door of someone you don't know in the wee hours of the morning to say they are being too loud. In America I'm sure there are plenty of people who'd first file a noise complaint - in fact, when I used to be in a band at the age of 15, we had just that happen to us and the cops shut us down several times practicing in my drummer's living room. But that's neither here nor there.

I've pondered the idea of telling him to turn down his techno re-re-mixes at 8:30 in the morning, but since the signs say "keep quiet 11pm-7am," and I usually should be getting up anyway, I've brushed it off. But this is 2 freakin' AM, and definitely a bit out of line. This dude has got some serious subwoofers, that's for sure.

I make my way out, seeing a dead baby roach in the hallway and taking that as a sign of just how lovely this guesthouse really is. (as an aside, there's some kind of 3 foot square basin outside my window, presumably for catching and draining rain, with two curled up dead roaches, apparently done in by a heavy rain yesterday. Yuck.) So I knocked on his door and at first I think he questioned hearing it. Then I knocked again, and he answered. His face looked bewildered at the very sight of me, which is what I expected. I politely said in Japanese - or maybe only half-assed politely - that the noise was too loud, and he apologized, I bade him good night and hopefully we never have to do this little dance again. But I have a feeling he'll be back to his old ways in the near future.

Oh, and speaking of old, you'd expect this to be some college student, but the dude is an (apparently single?) mid-40s-looking guy. Total shocker the first time I saw him. Anyways, off to bed now, the city is sleeping and now so can I.

"It's too @$%&ing loud" - Acid bath.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Risk of burnout is imminent, abandon ship!!!

So this morning I woke up with about 5 hours before I had to go to work (at 10 that is), but found it hard to move out of bed. Somewhere in my paranoid psyche I'm thinking: "Swine Flu!?!!?" (or shingata infuruenza, new-type Influenza, as the Japanese call it) This of course is rash and baseless, I've just been lethargic upon getting up because the last few days have been 80-85 degrees and humid. And it's only May!!! Time to start powering up the air conditioner.

Everyone is of course freaking out about the Swine Flu. My school, which shall of course remain nameless, has closed its doors temporarily in other parts of Japan due to the outbreak scare. People are already speculating that the same thing will happen here in Tokyo some time soon. Yesterday I worked in Shinjuku, easily one of the busiest locations, but the first half of the day was surprisingly devoid of students. Is it a sign of things to come, I wonder?

Although, for the Japanese, their culture is working against them in this whole affair. It's already been beaten to death across the internets, in news comments and whatnot, but for those who don't frequent those types of sites or know so much about Japan, here's some insightful information: The Japanese go to work as long as they can physically move, be it they have the chills, a fever, a cold, sore throat, limbs dangling off, severe blood loss... well maybe that's pushing it but you get the idea. The collectivist mindset and importance of attendance is so critical that many people go to work (and school) regardless of their health condition, wearing the ever-popular but rather inefficient surgeon's mask to let everyone know they are sick. So in effect, a disease like this spreads through schools, places of business, and crowded trains easily here. Not much to worry about for those of us with strong immune systems, really only for those who are already facing some kind of disease...

Sounds a lot like regular old influenza to me.

Anyway, that's what's going DOWN at the moment. Swine flu swine flu swine flu is all I hear. On the upside, many students have learned the word swine as a result.

Back to basics and what really matters: even though I got up lethargic and slow this morning, I still wanted to hit the books for a few hours before work. Today I have 3 kids classes to boot, so I'm sure to be totally drained at the end of the day, and good for pretty much nothing. This gets to the title of today's blog. I want to study hard and make the best of my time, but at the same time I have to keep methods varied and can't just be staring at flashcards for hours straight. This latter monotony lowers my interest, makes it less fun, and increases the risk of burnout. I'm sure anyone who ahs tried to cram or intensively study anything ever has experienced this feeling. Your interest (assuming it was there in the first place) wanes, you feel frustrated and possibly intimidated by the loads of new material. This is a danger when trying to focus really hard on one subject, so I have to remember to keep it varied. Or at least remember to take the occasional break.

Lately I've been reading Haruki Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore." It was his most popular work in America or so I've heard, but I've never read anything by him before. Quite interesting, surreal and engrossing, but so far from the traditional Japanese author it's startling to the huffy old scholars, I'm sure. It makes me want to read more of his works, but in it he heavily references Greek philosophy and various other things that I want to dive deeper into as well.

But, like my Mother said, I can't be "super ambitious about everything all at once." There just isn't enough time in the day, and I gotta earn my money too! On that note, it's back to the books, paying my rent, making my epic cheap lunch/dinner of carrots, broccoli and rice with instant curry and hoping for no crazy mishaps during my adventures with the youngsters today. (Or at least no drool on my clothes)

"Evil will always triumph, because good is dumb." - Spaceballs

"It isn't a question of intelligence. I'm not all that bright, I just have my own way of thinking. That's why people get disgusted with me. They accuse me of always bringing up things that are better left alone. If you try to use your head to think about things, people don't want to have anything to do with you." - Mr. Hagita the philosophizing truck-driver, "Kafka on the Shore."

"If the world don't like us it'll shake us just like we were a cold." - Modest Mouse

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life happens

It's 11pm on a Saturday night, and after working from 10-4 today I spent 4-odd hours studying Japanese (nice power nap included). I'm working overtime tomorrow which is a slight bummer but it's easy money and I can't turn down the opportunity. The Japanese is certainly coming along though, and while some things move slowly others show great improvements. I can quickly and easily recognize (be it in speech or reading, more-so the latter) many phrases, bits of vocabulary and grammar points which I have only learned in the last few months, which to me is pretty amazing. I think that the last 4 months of hardcore studying (and reading lots of manga) has armed me with knowledge of the language that a semester or 2 in college in America just can't provide. It's immersion at work, I just had to experience it to believe it.

The shift is quite nice. Granted my social life is taking a hit but I'm also trying to save money and limit going out for the time being. Once a week is enough I figure. I know far too many people who seem to blow everything they earn on living the party life, but that was never for me anyway. I'm serious about what I'm doing and think it will play a part in whatever I do in the future. Yah.

As the weather gets warmer, that fleeting period of sweet, comfortable temperatures and beautiful days slowly slip away, soon to give way to the rainy season and the dog days of another sticky Tokyo summer. I caught the tail end of one last year, and I am not looking forward to it, to say the least. I've heard from veritable world travelers that Tokyo summers are among the worst (thanks a lot, Global Warming and Excessive Industry!) The bugs come out in droves, everything sticks to everything else, and the only salvation is the A.C. in my room, the train, or the office. And if I had a nickel for every time I was stuck in a small room, teaching four people with a broken A.C. unit - and let's just say they ain't smellin like bundles of roses, more like businessmen who haven't showered in several days, wearing the same suit they did on their business trip to Nagoya last night - if I had that many nickels, "I'd throw them at people in the foodcourt." - Strongbad

I'm sure it gets like this in other crowded cities, but man, some people (in and out of work) just reek like a sack of old onions or various other ripe products left to spoil. I mean why not at least carry some cheap cologne or something, and spare your neighbors the olfactory suffering? Instead of smelling like a sack of sweat (and often shochuu (rice wine)) when you're standing right next to me. [/end rant]

In my case however, I've always been a bit of the indoor type, if you hadn't already guessed by my dorkish tendencies and pale complexion. So the summer for me is much like the winter in that it's an excuse to retreat indoors and do rainy-day activities. Like study or read or what have you. Yes I know it's not cool and I act like an old man, but that's how I roll. In fact I've always been of the belief, although it took time to act on it completely, that I should do my own thing without trying to conform as much as I possibly can. This doesn't mean painting A for Anarchy on my left buttocks and sleeping in gutters after huffing paint; It simply means I shouldn't feel obliged to do things strictly because they are a social norm. I personally feel like so many people get bogged down in this that they lose themselves in the process.

I do need to get to more shows, but I have trouble finding good ones on my days off (that I'm willing to shell out the 30-40 bucks for). So for any readers out there in Japan, shoot me your suggestions.

I'm currently re-reading (actually listening to an audio rendition by this stirring British narrator, thanks to one of my uber favorite blogs Audiobook Corner) Lord of the Rings, and enjoying it far too much. Also reading Dragonball and Hare nochi Guu to practice my Japanese (and get some laughs). I picked up more books lately, since I can never have enough, and although most are Japanese-studyish stuff, I did find the autobiography/memoirs of one "Milton Bertram" at Book-Off the other day. He was a well-to-do British gent who visited Japan in 1868 and again in 1904 if I recall the dates correctly, and talks about the vast changes that occurred (in a funny, if presumptuous and by current standards prejudice and uninformed kind of way).

Ya know guys, I try to think of interesting things to blog about, and worry slightly that rather mediocre entries like this one may lose people's attention, but then I remember: I'm writing this for a) myself b) my friends/family to let them know what's going on. A little mundanity isn't always such a bad thing, at least there are no shitstorms coming that I can foresee at the moment! :)

P.S. Visiting home in only 211 days! Mark your calendars.

"too much is never enough
we take more than we need
too much is never enough
our gluttony will be our demise
it's a growing epidemic
it's too late to make a change
we're taking over
we are a cancer
this is the human plaque" - Pulling Teeth

Monday, May 11, 2009

We are entering dimensions beyond space

So I've been back from Korea for well on 5 days now. I'm just now feeling refreshed and ready to get back to the routine - which will in fact last me for the next 3 months until I see another holiday! This is the first time in my life I haven't been counting the days until finals were over and eyeing the upcoming summer vacation, but I am rather staring at a seemingly endless daily grind of sorts. Growing up is weird, dude.

I made the terrible choice of stretching my vacation to the max and got back home around 7pm the night before I had to work my first shift of the week. It might not sound so bad, but 12ish hours of trains and planes can leave a man quite bedraggled. Quite. I am definitely going to do a bit more research into where exactly my airport is located in correspondence with my locations of interest in the future. Live, learn, repeat ad nauseam (just been looking for an excuse to bust out that last one)

What's new - what isn't new? I'm already tired of talking about my vacation and yet I have only orally reported it (ad nauseam), so the best may not be yours for the reading, sorry internet people. Let me throw out some highlights:

-I ate so many delicious dishes. Panjyong (kimchi baked into bread), Jya jya meong (Black bean noodles), Jim Dah (an incredibly savory, spicy dish of noodles and chicken), kimchi chige (kimchi stew) and a lot more things I don't remember well enough to mispell. (pics on the bottom folks)

-I had the pleasure of a friend as a guide, so my inability to do anything at all in Korean was less debilitating and more of a nuisance. It did bother me a bit, and if I'm ever going to any foreign country that doesn't speak much English again, especially on my own, I'm going to devote at least some portion of time to learning basic phrases, at the bare minimum.

-Witnessing a police drill in Seoul with what must have been over a thousand cops all swarming in and around the station. At one point they started pouring in in lines from both sides of a subway exit, and it strangely felt like being in a movie.

-South Korea, being 1/3-1/2 (I've heard both statistics) Christian, had giant crosses outlined in red neon everywhere, so that it was all you could see floating in the night sky. ??!!!?

-More bootleg stuff than you would find in the heart of Shanghai. Seriously. Their biggest brand is called Banc, and it's a complete lego-ripoff!

-Everything there is really cheap compared to Japan. I got lots of ties, some shirts, Korean spices, bottles of sake as omiyage (presents for my bosses), and other stuff.

I'm really too tired to say much more. I should weave in pics to make this look good, but hey, nobody's paying me! So go here for pictures and whatnot. I will try to update my blog with more, smaller updates in the future instead of sparse and generally longer ones. :)

"First we get some surgery, lose the kids and our identities. One thing I know for a fact, mustache stays, right where it's at." - Clutch

"Life is pain princess. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something" - The Princess Bride.